US President Donald Trump’s administration is urging an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, saying that the US doesn’t rule out that it came from a laboratory researching bats in Wuhan. China’s foreign ministry hit back saying the World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is no evidence that the coronavirus was made in a lab.
The fresh row erupted a day after Trump announced a hold on US funding for the WHO as it had failed in its duties, after which China said it would make up for the lack of American financing to the global health body.
Trump, asked about the laboratory theory on Wednesday, said that “more and more, we’re hearing the story” and that the US was “doing a very thorough investigation”. Trump has repeatedly blamed China and the WHO.
Beijing has said that the virus was likely transmitted to humans late last year at a Wuhan “wet market” that butchered exotic animals .
But The Washington Post and Fox News quoted anonymous sources who voiced concern that SARS-CoV-2 may have come accidentally from a sensitive bioresearch centre in the metropolis.
“We’re doing a full investigation of everything we can to learn how it is the case that this virus got away, got out into the world and now has created so much tragedy, so much death, here in the United States and all around the world,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo told Fox News.
He did not reject the reports and said that the US knew that the Wuhan laboratory “contained highly contagious materials”.
“In countries that are open and transparent, they have the ability to control and keep them safe and they allow outside observers in to make sure all the processes and procedures are right,” Pompeo said. “I only wish that had happened in this place.”
The origin of the virus is a popular topic on social media, with conspiracy theorists suggesting it is a Chinese bioweapon and a Chinese official saying US troops may have brought it to Wuhan.
Neither Fox News nor The Washington Post said the virus was spread deliberately or that the laboratory was definitively determined as the source.
A column by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin said that US embassy officials visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology two years before the pandemic and warned of inadequate safety at the laboratory.
Fox News said that “patient zero” may have been infected by a bat at the laboratory and gone into the population in Wuhan.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian insisted that the WHO’s officials “have said multiple times there is no evidence the new coronavirus was created in a laboratory”.-Hindustan Times