Feb. 10 (UPI) -- China said the United States should admit World Health Organization investigators for a probe similar to the WHO fact-finding mission to Wuhan, citing the alleged presence of COVID-19 on U.S. soil in 2019.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday at a regular press briefing that China may have not been the source of the novel coronavirus despite the surge in cases in Wuhan that spread beyond Chinese borders in early 2020.
"There are a number of clues, reports, and studies that suggest the outbreaks began in multiple locations around the world as early as the second half of 2019," Wang said. "The coronavirus may have been present in the United States before the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was officially reported in the country."
The Chinese diplomat also urged Washington to "adopt the same open and transparent attitude as China, and invite WHO experts to carry out origin-tracing studies in the United States."
The Chinese government has consistently defended its record on the coronavirus pandemic, promoting the idea the country fell victim to the virus even after provincial and central government authorities suppressed information about the disease at a key stage and denied human-to-human transmission for weeks despite evidence.
China barred the WHO from conducting origin-tracing projects in the country in 2020, but admitted investigators to Wuhan a year after the pandemic began in the Chinese city.
On Wednesday Wang claimed Beijing had been in close communication with WHO in an "open and transparent way," a day after WHO investigator Dr. Peter Ben Embarek said it is "extremely unlikely" the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was involved in coronavirus research in bats.
Embarek had said the theory the virus reached humans as a result of a lab accident did not warrant future study, after speaking with Chinese scientists at the lab.
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it will not "rush to conclusions" after the WHO press conference in China.
"We want to see where that data leaves us, and based on that, we'll come to a conclusion," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.