US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged Thursday that China may have known of the new coronavirus as early as November, renewing accusations that Beijing has not been transparent and again drawing ire from China.
"You'll recall that the first cases of this were known by the Chinese government maybe as early as November, but certainly by mid-December," Pompeo said in an interview.
"They were slow to identify this for anyone in the world, including the World Health Organization," he told conservative radio host Larry O'Connor.
Pompeo said the United States still wanted more information from China including the original sample of the SARS-CoV-2 virus detected in the metropolis of Wuhan.
"This issue of transparency is important not only as a historical matter to understand what happened back in November and December and January, but it's important even today," Pompeo said.
"This is still impacting lots of lives here in the United States and, frankly, around the world."
China hit back on Friday, saying Pompeo's remarks were "totally groundless and entirely for the purpose of blaming others".
Pompeo's comments ran "counter to the general consensus of the global community", foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily press briefing, adding that China had "provided timely information to the world" and actively cooperated with others.
China initially closely guarded information of the virus and silenced whistleblowers. The first official acknowledgment of what became a global pandemic came on December 31 when authorities in Wuhan reported mysterious cases of pneumonia.
Michael Ryan, emergencies director at the World Health Organization, said the UN body first spoke of an event in Wuhan on January 4 via Twitter and provided "detailed information" the following day to all member countries.
President Donald Trump's administration has harshly criticized both China and the WHO, blaming them for not stopping the illness that has killed more than 180,000 people worldwide.
Critics say that Trump is seeking to deflect from his own handling of the coronavirus, which he claimed to have "totally under control" in January but has since killed nearly 50,000 people in the United States -- more than any other country.
Pompeo has previously not ruled out that the virus originated in a virology laboratory in Wuhan and has demanded international access to it.
China has dismissed the theory. Its scientists have said that the virus probably was transmitted to humans at a meat market in Wuhan that butchered exotic animals, though Chinese officials have more recently cast doubt about its origins.