As calls mount, China says it will back probe into coronavirus origin, but not yet

Coronavirus

Workers line up for medical workers to take swabs for the coronavirus test at a large factory in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Friday, May 15, 2020. Wuhan have begun testing inhabitants for the coronavirus as a program to test everyone in the Chinese city of 11 million people in 10 days got underway. (Chinatopix Via AP)

CHINA (CBS NEWS) — As the number of coronavirus infections reported worldwide nears the 5 million mark, China has eased its resistance to mounting calls for an investigation into the origin of the pathogen. But the Chinese leader made it clear Monday that Beijing believes the time for such questions hasn’t come yet.

China reported the world’s first new coronavirus cases, in the city of Wuhan, to the World Health Organization on December 31. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have since claimed the U.S. has evidence that the disease originated from a laboratory in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province.

While U.S. intelligence officials have said the theory is possible and among those being investigated, most scientists – including the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci – believe the virus has natural origins and was likely transmitted to humans from wild animals.

More than 100 of the World Health Organization’s 194 member nations now support an international investigation into the disease’s origin, including the U.S., Russia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Australia and the European Union were to table a formal motion for such a probe Monday at the annual meeting of the World Health Organization’s top policy-making body, the World Health Assembly.

“This is about collaborating to equip the international community to better prevent or counter the next pandemic and keep our citizens safe,” Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said Sunday.

“In all this, we count on China to play its full role, in line with its global weight and responsibilities,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in an opinion piece published on Friday.

The resolution at the Assembly calling for an investigation would need the support of two-thirds of member states, or about 130 countries, to be taken forward.

Beijing initially stood firmly opposed to any probe into the genesis of the virus, but in recent weeks has softened its stance as calls for an independent inquiry have gained traction.

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