China Denies Cover-up of COVID-19 Information; Defends WHO Chief

China on Thursday denied any cover-up in reporting the initial information of the novel coronavirus outbreak in December last as it put up a staunch defence of WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, refuting US President Donald Trump's allegation that he was "very China centric".

"China was the first country to report the COVID-19 to the World Health Organisation (WHO), (and) that doesn't mean the virus originated from Wuhan," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here, dismissing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's charge of China hiding the COVID-19 data.

"Epidemic may break out first anywhere in the world. But its origin is a matter of science and we should leave it to science and medical community," said Zhao, who earlier created a storm by alleging on March 12 that the US Army may have brought the virus to Wuhan, leading to a diplomatic protest by Washington.

While he didn't revisit his allegation, Zhao, in a detailed reply to Pompeo's charge, referred to Wuhan lifting its 76-day lockdown on Wednesday which, he said, boosted the confidence of other countries.

"More and more people have come to realise that Chinese solution is viable and Chinese experience is of great value. Any responsible country will stand firmly against labelling the virus," he said.

In an official timeline of the coronavirus released on April 6, China said the novel coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan in "late December 2019" where the infection was listed as "pneumonia of unknown cause", but skirted the key question about its origin.

Wild animals sold in the Huanan Seafood Market in China's Wuhan city are believed to be the source of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has claimed nearly 90,000 lives worldwide so far.

"Accusation of China covered up the epidemic and lack of transparency is groundless," Zhao said, adding that China had informed WHO of the genetic sequence of the virus which was used by American labs in their efforts to develop a vaccine. A US specialist was also part of the WHO team which visited Wuhan.

To another question about local officials in Wuhan concealing the information and not acting in time to contain the virus, Zhao said, "as to the initial stage of the outbreak, it is a new virus. There is a process before we can get to know it fully, there is no such thing as (cover-up) as you claimed."

"The US had open access to information and data" on the virus, he said, referring to Chinese research group publishing the details.

"So, China has done what we should and could do. As to whether the US made good use of the precious time we bought, the information we provided and whether it took effective preventive control measures, we believe history will give a fair judgement," he said.

"Stigmatising China will prove deeply to unpopular. Virus respects no borders," he said.

Zhao also refuted Trump's allegation of the WHO chief being "very China centric", saying the UN health agency under his leadership has "fulfilled its due role and upheld a science-based objective and played an important role in helping countries to fight the virus and coordinating international cooperation."

Besides the UN, many countries have spoken openly to endorse WHO and its call for greater cooperation in the world, he said.

The G20 Summit released a statement stressing full support and committing further support for WHO in coordinating the international response, he said.

"China will continue to support WHO in playing a leading role to control the pandemic," he said.

About Trump's threat to withhold US funding to WHO, Zhao said on Wednesday that "as the COVID-19 spreads rapidly across the world, the US putting a hold on its funding to WHO will seriously undermine the organization's normal functioning as well as international anti-pandemic cooperation.

"We hope countries can work together, help each other amid difficulties and jointly contribute to the global fight against the coronavirus," he said.

President Trump threatened to put a "very powerful" hold on US' funding to the WHO, accusing the UN agency of being "very China centric" and criticising it for having "missed the call" in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Geneva-headquartered agency receives vast amounts of money from the United States.