GENEVA: The World Health Organization is sending a team to China next week to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus, its head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing on Monday (Jun 29).
"We can fight the virus better when we know everything about the virus, including how it started," Tedros said. "We will be sending a team next week to China to prepare for that."
US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both said the disease could have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, although they have presented no evidence of this, and China denies it. Scientists say the virus emerged in nature.
Trump has announced plans to quit the WHO, which he says is too close to China. He has repeatedly emphasised the Chinese origins of the virus, calling it "Kung Flu" at two rallies this month, a term the White House had previously described as unacceptable and which Asian-American groups say is racist.
Asked about Trump's use of the term, the director of the WHO's emergencies programme, Mike Ryan, called for an "international discourse that is based on mutual respect".
"Many people around the world have used unfortunate language in this response," he said.
Ryan said there had been tremendous progress towards finding a vaccine, but there was no guarantee of success. In the meantime countries must use the strategies available, such as social distancing and contact tracing.
"Many, many countries through applying a comprehensive strategy have reached a very low level of virus transmission in their countries but always have to remain vigilant in case there are clusters or small outbreaks."