Russia on Friday denied that China withheld information on the novel coronavirus as the global pandemic erupted.

Beijing informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak last December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian media group RBC.

“In late December, everyone learned from our Chinese colleagues what was happening there, when they became convinced that it was really an epidemic. In January, experts, including those under the auspices of WHO, already discussed this. In early February, WHO experts visited Wuhan, among them, by the way, was a Russian specialist. So it is incorrect to say that the Chinese shut the WHO out or that the WHO was not aware,” Lavrov said during the interview.

He dismissed a proposal by US Senator Lindsey Graham to slap China with sanctions if Beijing “will not cooperate and will not provide a full report on the events that led to the outbreak” of the coronavirus.

“There is a need to understand the specific reasons for the appearance of this virus, why the process of transmission from person to person began and so on. This will be of key importance in the future in developing an antidote and will help to insure against this threat, and not to argue that the virus originated on the market in China and therefore it is necessary to impose sanctions against this country,” he said.

After originating in China last December, COVID-19 has spread to at least 188 countries and regions. Europe and the US are currently the worst-hit regions.

The pandemic has killed over 304,600 worldwide, with total infections nearing 4.5 million and more than 1.6 million recoveries from the disease, according to figures compiled by the US-based Johns Hopkins University.

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