US President Donald Trump claimed yesterday in a nationally televised address that he “has seen evidence” the the Covid-19 coronavirus originated in a Wuhan epidmiology lab, an assertion roundly disputed by scientists and intelligence agencies, and which threatens to turn into a diplomatic disaster. He declined to share the evidence, claiming he is “not allowed.” The claim was almost immediately contradicted by intelligence officials and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a devout Trump loyalist.
“We don’t know precisely where it began.”
The claim, long denied by Beijing, could stir tensions even as the World Health Organisation requests to participate in a Chinese investigation into the “animal origins” of the pandemic. Scientists believe the killer virus jumped from animals to humans, emerging in China late last year, possibly from a market in Wuhan selling exotic animals for meat.
But speculation, reinforced by internet rumours and America’s right-wing radio pundits, has swirled about a top-secret lab, and seems to have been taken up by the US President.
When asked if he had seen evidence to make him think the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the outbreak, Trump replied: “Yes, I have.”
But he refused to give details and Secretary of State Pompeo indicated he had not seen definitive evidence.
“We don’t know if it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We don’t know if it emanated from the wet market or yet some other place. We don’t know those answers.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said analysts would “continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine” the origin of the outbreak.
In Geneva, a spokesman for the World Health Organisation said several investigations into the source of the virus were ongoing, adding that the global agency was “not currently involved in the studies in China”.
“WHO would be keen to work with international partners and, at the invitation of the Chinese government, to participate in investigation around the animal origins,”
Beijing has steadfastly denied the lab was the source of the virus. Last month foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian pointedly stressed that “WHO officials have repeatedly stated that there is no single piece of evidence that the new coronavirus was produced in a laboratory.”
“Many well-known medical experts in the world also believe that the so-called laboratory leak hypothesis has no scientific basis.”
US President Trump is making China’s handling of the outbreak a major narrative for his November reelection campaign.
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