HHS Secretary Azar Says China Hiding COVID-19 Origins During 'Provocative' Taiwan Visit

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's visit to Taiwan over the weekend prompted scorn from the Chinese Communist Party, but the Trump administration official shot back, saying Beijing is still witholding the origin of COVID-19 from the world.

Azar landed in Taiwan Sunday, where he praised the coronavirus containment response by the island's government - which is not officially recognized by China as independent from the People's Republica of China. Beijing officials immediately described Azar's visit as a "provocative" move to escalate tensions with the U.S. But the Trump administration official said China's Communist party has still failed to provide original coronavirus samples to international health officials.

Azar accused China of hiding the origin samples and other scientific evidence which could help scientists around the globe to push forward on a vaccine to fight the novel pathogen which many Trump administration officials say originated in a Wuhan laboratory.

"It's an obligation when there's a novel pathogen to share in the international community not just genetic sequencing of the pathogen but the actual viral isolates," Azar said. "That isolate can be important in crafting vaccines and diagnostics but also in determining the origins of the virus," Azar told Breitbart News in an interview published Sunday.

Newsweek subscription offers >

"The World Health Organization has a mission now that is trying to get started in China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus. Perhaps they will eventually yield access to what we call the initial case viral isolates, or the early generation viral isolates, as part of that. But those to date have not been shared in the world community," the HHS chief continued.

China's state-run media outlet, Global Times, ran several pieces criticizing Azar's visit to Taiwan. One piece published Saturday warned the U.S. visit "could immediately escalate tensions with China" and described Taiwan's government as as simply the "separatist authority on the island ... who would love to cooperate with the U.S. to provoke the mainland."

Azar said all scientific work on vaccines, diagnostics and other counter-measures could be expedited if China stopped wittholding origin strains of COVID-19 from the international community. He applauded President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the WHO, saying the organization should have punished the Chinese government for their failings in containing the virus - and now hindering the pursuit of a vaccine.

"If one country knows the answers to those questions and does not share that information, that impedes every country's ability to mount an effective prevention or response program," he added to Breitbart in a piece published Sunday.

Newsweek subscription offers >

Ahead of Azar's visit to Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin criticized Azar's trip at a press conference, saying "China firmly opposes any official interactions between the U.S. and Taiwan."

Newsweek reached out to HHS and the Chinese Embassy in Washington for additional remarks Monday morning but did not recieve a response in time for publicaion.

alex azar donald trump covid-19
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's visit to Taiwan over the weekend prompted scorn from the Chinese Communist Party, but the Trump administration official shot back, saying Beijing is still wittholding the origin of COVID-19 from the world. MANDEL NGAN / Contributor/Getty Images
HHS Secretary Azar Says China Hiding COVID-19 Origins During 'Provocative' Taiwan Visit | World