Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday that the UK’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic was hampered by China’s lack of transparency, and called for “a fully independent investigation in China” into the origin of the CCP virus.
Appearing before the UK Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee, Hancock said he did not know whether theories that the virus originated from a lab leak in Wuhan were correct, but he thought an independent probe was “vital” to establish the origin of the pandemic.
“It is vital that we have a fully independent investigation in China to find out all we can about this, and that that is allowed to happen unencumbered,” he said.
“Part of the reforms that we need to the way the worldwide systems operate is to make sure that we properly find answers to these questions, because at the moment it is impossible to do it. We do need to get to the bottom of this.”
Hancock also said that the UK’s early response to the pandemic was hampered by the lack of information coming out of China.
“One of the things that hindered our early response was a lack of transparency from China. That must be put right in terms of future preparedness for future pandemics,” he said.
“It is absolutely vital for the world that China is more transparent about its health information as soon it understands there are problems.”
Hancock said he could not obtain information on asymptomatic transmission of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus from either the Chinese authorities or the World Health Organization (WHO).
He said he first heard that there was asymptomatic transmission in China in January 2020.
“I was so worried about it I arranged a call with the World Health Organization. I was told on that call with respect to China this was ‘likely a mis-translation,’” he said. “After that we did not get the evidence from China which could have proved it.”
“I was in a situation of not having hard evidence that a global scientific consensus of decades was wrong but having an instinct that it was.
“I bitterly regret that I didn’t overrule that scientific advice at the start and say we should proceed on the basis that there is asymptomatic transmission until we know that there isn’t rather than the other way round.”
The health secretary said unilateral border closure at the beginning of the pandemic would not have made much difference, as China was still allowing people to leave the country.
“The only way the world could have stopped this virus getting out of China is if China itself had stopped people leaving China,” he said.
“As soon as people were allowed to leave China to go to one place, then unless the whole world took action on borders—as they have done now—it would have only delayed [the spread of the disease] to a degree. That was the clear clinical advice.”
PA contributed to this report.