COVID-19: Boris Johnson joins Joe Biden in putting pressure on China over World Health Organization investigation

Boris Johnson has backed Joe Biden’s calls for China to turn over all information to the World Health Organization (WHO) for its investigation into how the coronavirus pandemic began.

The prime minister said “we need to know exactly what happened” and threw his support behind the new US president, whose administration has questioned the impartiality of the probe.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan recently said there are “deep concerns” about the WHO’s preliminary findings and how it reached them, adding it is imperative the report be independent and free from “alteration by the Chinese government”.

Asked in a wide-ranging interview with CBS aired on Sunday whether he shared the Biden administration’s concerns, Mr Johnson said: “When you have a zoonotic plague [one that jumps from an animal to a human] like coronavirus, we need to know exactly how it happened.

“Indeed, if it’s zoonotic, if it really originated from human contact with the animal kingdom, that’s what is asserted.

“But we need to know exactly what happened. Was it in a wet market? Did it come from the bats? Were the bats associated with the pangolins? All these questions are now matters of speculation.

“We need to see the data. We need to see all the evidence. So I thoroughly support what President Biden has said about that.”

China had refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to the WHO team probing the origins of the pandemic, according to one of the team’s investigators.

The group had requested raw patient data on 174 cases that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak in the city of Wuhan in December 2019, as well as other cases, but were only provided with a summary, Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert who is a member of the WHO team, told Reuters.

But China hit back at Washington, saying the US had already gravely damaged international cooperation and was now pointing fingers at other countries who have been supporting the WHO.

Mr Johnson also said he has “no reason to think” that any of the three coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the UK “are ineffective against any variant” of COVID-19.

Reflecting on his own period in an intensive care unit with the disease in April 2020, Mr Johnson said he didn’t quite appreciate how seriously ill he was at the time.

“I think one of the features of this illness is that… as you undergo it, it’s possible you don’t realise quite what state you’re in.

“I think that is one of the features of it, because your oxygen levels go down in a way that perhaps the patient doesn’t necessarily detect themselves.”

And Mr Johnson said the question of whether he might die “didn’t occur”.

Asked what signal the US Senate sent by acquitting former president Donald Trump for his role in the US Capitol riots, Mr Johnson said: “I think the clear message that we get from the proceedings in America is that after all the to-ings and fro-ings and all the kerfuffle, American democracy is strong and the American Constitution is strong and robust.”

The prime minister insisted he has a “good relationship” with Mr Biden, but refused to be drawn on whether he would uphold the Northern Ireland Protocol – the part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement meant to ensure no hard border on the UK’s only land frontier with the EU.

Asked three times if he would adhere to it, after Mr Johnson threatened to invoke the same procedure temporarily used by Brussels to override the Protocol, he declined – only saying he wanted to protect peace and free movement across Ireland.

But in an attempt to highlight his and Mr Biden’s similarities, Mr Johnson raised that the US leader also uses the same political campaigning slogan: “Build back better.”

He joked: “I think I claim that we used it first. And to be truthful, I think we nicked it from someone else before I started using it. But it’s the right slogan.”

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