Coronavirus: Germany's Angela Merkel urges 'transparency' from China over COVID-19 origin

Germany's Angela Merkel has become the latest Western world leader to plead for transparency from China about the origin of SARS-CoV-2.

As the virus, which causes the deadly COVID-19 illness, continues to rip across the world, governments are looking at how the virus originated and what enabled its global spread.

More than 2.5 million people have been infected and 169,000 have died.

The origin of the virus remains murky, with several seemingly isolated instances of people with symptoms of pneumonia of an unknown cause being identified in China in December. After investigating a number of cases linked to a wet market in Wuhan, Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of the illness on December 31. It's widely believed the virus came from a bat and jumped to humans via an intermediary animal.

However, while the WHO has praised China's transparency and the Middle Kingdom says it has shared the information it has about the virus, other world leaders have questioned if China is being totally upfront. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reported by AFP on Tuesday as telling Berlin reporters: "I believe the more transparent China is about the origin story of the virus, the better it is for everyone in the world in order to learn from it".

Experts, such as those published by Natural Medicine, have determined the virus originated via natural processes and was not bioengineered as some conspiracy theories suggest. But others queried whether it is possible the naturally developed virus was being studied in a lab and was accidentally allowed to spread.

Last week, the United States began planning an investigation into the virus' origin.

"Where did this all start from? Was this transferred from animal to human? Was this from a lab in China? Might have been the best of intentions trying to come up with the different cures, with the different therapies for the coronavirus in general," said the chairman of the United States' Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Republican Ron Johnson.

The director of one of the Wuhan labs at the centre of theories, the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, has denied it was involved in spread the virus. 

"There is absolutely no way that the virus originated from our institute," Yuan Zhiming told state media.

United States President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for China to be more transparent about the virus and has questioned whether they "knowingly responsible" for the pandemic. Trump has pulled US funding of the WHO over concerns about its handling of the virus and whether it placed too much trust in China.

During the weekend, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne supported calls for a global inquiry into the virus.

"I trust China in terms of the work that we need to do together," she said.

"The issues around the coronavirus are issues for independent review, and I think that it is important that we do that. In fact, Australia will absolutely insist on that."

In an interview with the Financial Times, French President Emmanuel Macron last week said: "There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about."

The call for greater transparency came as the Associated Press reported last week that Chinese authorities were aware of the seriousness of the virus and the possibility of human-to-human transmission at least six days before warning citizens.

Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi told The AM Show last week that China had acted "swiftly" to learn as much about the virus as possible.

"COVID-19 is a new virus, little is known to the world before its outbreak, and it is fair to say that China was caught off guard. We need time to know what it is, whether it transmits among humans, how it transmits, how to diagnose and how to treat the patients. I suppose every Government would do the same for a new virus," she said.