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Feb. 10, 2021, 2:34 p.m. EST

WHO team member hits back at criticism of Wuhan mission as global COVID tally tops 107 million

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Ciara Linnane

A member of the World Health Organization team that traveled to the Chinese city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic hit back at criticism of the mission from the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, suggesting the former U.S. administration was “disengaged” and out of touch.

Peter Daszak, a British zoologist and expert on disease ecology who is president of nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, said in a tweet that President Joe Biden “has to look tough on China,” adding that U.S. intelligence could not be relied on given it was “frankly wrong on many aspects” under former President Donald Trump.

The WHO mission ended Tuesday without finding the source of the outbreak, although experts concluded it was “extremely unlikely” it came from a laboratory, as some conspiracy theorists, including Trump, have touted. Instead, they said it likely jumped to humans from an as yet-to-be identified animal.

Daszak said the team had worked hard under “the most politically charged environment possible,” given U.S. concern that China has not been fully open with information about the virus, which was first reported in late 2019 in Wuhan.

The tweet linked to a U.S. State Department comment that questioned the transparency of the mission and China’s cooperation with the WHO team.

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The news comes as the global confirmed case tally of the virus that causes the illness COVID-19 headed above 107 million and the death toll rose above 2.42 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at more than 27 million, and deaths, at 468,207, or about a fifth of the global total. The U.S. added 96,460 new cases on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 3,167 people died. But cases numbers have been steadily declining and have averaged 108,144 a day for the past week, down 35% from two weeks ago. Tuesday marks a third straight day of fewer than 100,000 new cases.

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There was bad news for California, however, when it became the state with the most COVID fatalities at 44,970 since the start of the pandemic. That is more than the 44,683 fatalities suffered by New York, which was a hotspot last spring at its peak.

Globally, the numbers are improving too, according to the WHO’s latest epidemiological update. There were 3.1 million new cases recorded last week globally, the update finds, down 17% from the previous week.

“Although there are still many countries with increasing numbers of cases, at the global level, this trend is encouraging,” said the WHO.

The agency continues to clamor for wealthier countries not to hog available vaccines, but to make sure they are also available to lower-income countries, a message it has been pushing heavily in recent weeks.

Of the 128 million vaccine doses administered so far, more than three quarters are in 10 countries that account for 60% of global GDP, according to a joint statement published Wednesday by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“As of today, almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose,” said the statement. “This self-defeating strategy will cost lives and livelihoods, give the virus further opportunity to mutate and evade vaccines and will undermine a global economic recovery.”

The two agencies are calling on governments to share vaccines through the WHO’s Covax program, which aims to get shots in arms in the world’s poorest countries.

“We need global leadership to scale up vaccine production and achieve vaccine equity,” they said. “COVID-19 has shown that our fates are inextricably linked. Whether we win or lose, we will do so together.”

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