Covid-19: In swipe at China, US praises SA scientists for 'quick identification' of Omicron

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  • The US has praised South African scientists for quickly identifying the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, and the transparency in sharing the information.
  • This was viewed as a swipe at China's handling of the original outbreak of Covid-19, often criticised by the US as not being forthcoming on the virus' origins.
  • US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor discussed ways of cooperating to vaccinate people in Africa.

Washington – The United States praised South Africa on Saturday for quickly identifying the new Covid-19 strain called Omicron and sharing this information with the world – a barely veiled slap at China's handling of the original outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Getty Images PHOTO: Anna Moneymaker, Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with SA's International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, and they discussed cooperation on vaccinating people in Africa against Covid-19, the State Department said.

The statement said:

Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa's scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa's government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world.

First under Donald Trump and now under President Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly criticised China as not being forthcoming on the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, before spreading around the world. It has now killed nearly 5.2 million people.

FOLLOW LIVE | Covid-19 cases increase by 3 220 as more countries race to contain the Omicron variant

In August of this year, the US intelligence community released a report in which it said it could not reach a firm conclusion on the origins of the virus – among animals or in a research lab were top scenarios – because China had not helped in the US probe.

'World deserves answers'

The US has also accused Beijing of waiting too long before sharing crucial information about the outbreak, saying that a more transparent handling could have helped halt the spread of the virus.

After the US report was issued, Biden accused Beijing of stonewalling.

"The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them," Biden said in a statement after that unclassified report came out.

He said: 

Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world.

The pandemic is one of many sources of acute tension today in US-China relations, as the two great powers clash over trade, human rights, and the prickly issue of Taiwan, among other matters.

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