US CDC had ‘very good interaction’ with China after coronavirus outbreak, says director Robert Redfield

·4-min read

The head of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday that members of his agency had “very good interaction” with Chinese counterparts soon after health authorities in the country reported an outbreak of the respiratory disease that turned out to be Covid-19.

In testimony to US lawmakers, CDC director Robert Redfield said his colleagues had been in touch with their counterparts in Beijing two days after Chinese health authorities first notified the World Health Organisation of what they referred to as “a cluster of cases of pneumonia” on December 31.

“When this original outbreak of pneumonia of unknown etiology came from the original seafood market, we were obviously in discussions with US personnel that were working with Chinese CDC,” Redfield told Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican representing Georgia.

Loeffler had asked Redfield to explain “the level and the timing” of the information that he received from Chinese counterparts.

“I personally had discussions as early, I think the CDC had discussions as early as January 2, and myself, January 3, with a counterpart to discuss this at a scientific level,” Redfield said. “I think we had very good interaction. That’s different than the broader government level.”

Redfield did not elaborate on US government communication with Chinese government officials whom US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and many lawmakers have accused of withholding information about the coronavirus outbreak, including the point at which Beijing knew the contagion was spreading among humans.

Pompeo has said repeatedly that Beijing has declined to provide virus samples taken from patients when the contagion began spreading in China late last year, and accused Chinese authorities of destroying samples, without providing evidence.

Washington’s top diplomat has also supported allegations that Sars-CoV-2 escaped from a virology lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the health crisis began.

Deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere cast China as being negligent whether the coronavirus escaped from the lab or from the city’s wet market.

US Senator Lindsey Graham introduced legislation that would authorise President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on China if it refuses to provide “a full accounting of the events leading up to” the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: AFP
US Senator Lindsey Graham introduced legislation that would authorise President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on China if it refuses to provide “a full accounting of the events leading up to” the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: AFP

“There’s certainly the potential it came from the laboratory” in Wuhan, Deere told reporters on Tuesday.

“Either came from a horrific wet market where animals are tortured and exotic animals are consumed on site, and the conditions are filthy or it came out of a lab where there was improper safety protocols in place,” Deere said. “So neither one's a good answer for China.”

China accused of hiding details of virus outbreak to hoard medical supplies

China has fought back against the allegations. Last week, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a rebuttal to two dozen allegations, titled “Reality check of US allegations against China on Covid-19”.

“Bats are never part of the Chinese diet,” the ministry’s document said. “There are no so-called ‘wildlife wet markets’ in China. China has passed legislation banning all illegal hunting and trade of wild animals.”

The document added that the Wuhan Institute of Virology “is a government cooperation programme between China and France. The institute does not have the capability to design and synthesise a new coronavirus, and there is no evidence of pathogen leaks or staff infections in the Institute.”

The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement last week, saying that it “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified”.

As virus tsunami leaves China, wave of infections may be far from over

However, the mistrust among many in Washington has continued.

On Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, introduced legislation that would authorise President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on China if its government refuses to provide “a full accounting of the events leading up to” the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m convinced that without Chinese Communist Party deception the virus would not be here in the United States,” Graham said in an announcement.

“China refuses to allow the international community to go into the Wuhan lab to investigate,” Graham said. “They refuse to allow investigators to study how this outbreak started. I’m convinced China will never cooperate with a serious investigation unless they are made to do so.”

Graham’s legislation, called “The Covid-19 Accountability Act”, is co-sponsored by eight other senators, all Republicans.

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