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WHO says virus link to lab 'speculative'

Montreal, Canada - March 21, 2020: The World Health Organization logo on mobile screen. The World Health Organization is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for public health.

WHO says virus link to lab 'speculative' (Bigstock)

The World Health Organisation has seen no information from the US or other sources to indicate the novel coronavirus came from a Chinese laboratory, senior WHO official Mike Ryan says.

"From our perspective this remains speculative," he said in Geneva, speaking in an online press briefing.

US President Donald Trump said last week he has seen information indicating the Wuhan Institute of Virology is behind the coronavirus outbreak.

However, the US intelligence community has concluded the novel coronavirus was not man-made or genetically modified, even though it is still examining whether the outbreak could have originated in a Chinese laboratory.

Washington has not shared such data with the WHO, said Ryan, who leads the UN agency's emergency operations in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's difficult for the WHO to operate in an information vacuum in that regard," he said.

The WHO's top COVID-19 scientist Maria Van Kerkhove stressed that thousands of genetic analyses of the virus had all indicated it was of natural origin, even though it was still unclear which animal passed it to humans.

Earlier on Monday, Chinese state media hit back at the US, accusing Trump's administration of trying to distract from its own "incompetence" with allegations about the spread of the coronavirus.

A commentary in the Global Times newspaper, published under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party's People's Daily, dismissed as "groundless" allegations China had covered up the scale of the coronavirus outbreak.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's claim that intelligence agencies were following up "significant" evidence the virus came from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan was "bluffing", it added.

"The truth is that Pompeo does not have any evidence," the paper wrote.

"If Washington has solid evidence, then it should let research institutes and scientists examine and verify it."

WHO official Ryan said the easiest way to find the origin of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease would be to work with Chinese scientists, rather than through a politicised "aggressive investigation of wrongdoing".

"Science needs to be at centre," he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was too early to draw firm conclusions, about the theory that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, Canadian media reported.

Canada is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance with the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Scientists consider it more likely the virus was transmitted to humans from bats via another animal.

© DPA 2020