Secretary Azar calls out China for 'dereliction of duty' at UN coronavirus meeting

A Trump administration official said the gathering is too 'China-friendly'

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called out China for mishandling the coronavirus outbreak at a United Nations gathering on the pandemic that the Trump Administration has panned as too little too late. 

Azar, the top U.S. official speaking at the largely virtual two-day summit, hit Beijing for not being forthcoming about the origin of the virus before it spread across the globe, killing 1.5 million people.

"The key issue is not where the virus first appeared -- it is whether information about the virus was shared in a timely and transparent way," Azar said Friday night. "Sadly, the necessary information sharing did not happen, and this dereliction of duty has been absolutely devastating for the entire globe."

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Azar is one of about 150 speakers at the United Nations' first major gathering of world leaders on the coronavirus pandemic, nearly a year after the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China. A senior administration official told Fox News the General Assembly's special COVID-19 session is too late, too rushed and has done little to hold China accountable.

"The whole format is, in fact, very China-friendly because it doesn't invite any critical inquiry as to the origins of the virus or the mismanagement of the contagion out of Wuhan," a senior Trump Administration official told Fox News Friday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The official, asking to speak on the condition of anonymity to discuss the White House position, also called out the format of short video addresses of world leaders crammed over two days.

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"It didn't have to be two days only, and it didn't have to wait until now. ... It's really disrespectful, I'd say, to multilateralism," the official told Fox News.

The Trump Administration official also took issue with the United States being denied a chance to speak at the opening of the special session on Thursday as the host country and the government responsible for launching Operation Warp Speed to develop vaccines at a record pace. Instead, Azar's only speaking slot came Friday evening. 

"I'd call that a slight," the official said. 

Azar didn't name China directly, but the official confirmed his speech indeed was targeted at Beijing and the decision to not mention China's name was in keeping with traditional diplomatic norms and to avoid evoking the right to reply.

Azar also pointed out the "unacceptable" delay of the international investigation into the origin of the virus. 

"Unfortunately, we are not much closer today to the transparent information sharing that we need," Azar said. "The World Health Assembly directed WHO to undertake an investigation into the origins of the virus, but the results are not expected until next year -- an unacceptable timeframe. 

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"Even worse, international experts will be expected to just review the conclusions of one country's experts -- far from the kind of collaborative spirit we need to get to the truth."