US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed China on Wednesday to allow inspectors into sensitive laboratories, voicing concern about their security amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Pompeo has refused to rule out that the deadly virus leaked out of a laboratory in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, a scenario strenuously denied by Beijing.
"You have to remember – these labs are still open inside of China, these labs that contain complex pathogens that were being studied. It's not just the Wuhan Institute of Virology," Pompeo told reporters.
"It's important that those materials are being handled in a safe and secure way such that there isn't accidental release," Pompeo said.
Pompeo cited the example of nuclear facilities, pointing to the rigorous global inspections to ensure safety.
He renewed concerns that China has not shared a sample of the initially detected virus, known scientifically as SARS-CoV-2.
"We still do not have a sample of the virus, nor has the world had access to the facilities or other locations where this virus may have originally originated inside of Wuhan," Pompeo said.
Chinese authorities initially suppressed news of the deadly virus, including detaining a prominent whistleblower.
Chinese scientists have since said that they suspect that the virus emerged late last year in a Wuhan meat market that butchered exotic animals.
But questions immediately arose because of the presence nearby of the maximum-security virology lab, with senior US officials bringing into the mainstream what was initially an online conspiracy theory.
Critics say President Donald Trump is eager to deflect any blame over his own handling of the pandemic, which has killed some 45,000 people in the United States, more than any other country.