Washington, May 1: The deadly coronavirus originated from a virology lab in China’s Wuhan city before it spread across the world and claimed over 233,000 lives and shattered global economies, US President Donald Trump has said.
Trump’s comments undercut a rare public statement from his own intelligence community on Thursday which stated no such assessment has been made by them whether the COVID-19 outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.
Ever since the virus outbreak came to light in Wuhan in December last, speculation has been rife on whether the viral strain originated from China’s premier Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) or from its nearby Huanan Seafood Market. The US has launched an investigation into whether the deadly virus “escaped” from the WIV.
At his daily White House briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak in the US on Thursday, Trump was asked by a reporter: “Have you seen anything at this point that gives you a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of this virus?”
“Yes, I have. Yes, I have,” Trump said. The president, however, refused to provide any details, except for saying that investigations are on and it would be out soon.
Asked what gave him a high degree of confidence that the virus originated from the WIV, he said, “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
In a rare public statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees US spy agencies, said on Thursday it concurs with the “wide scientific consensus” regarding COVID-19’s natural origins.
“The (intelligence community) will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” the ODNI statement said.
It was the first clear response from American intelligence debunking conspiracy theories – both from the US and China – that the virus is a biological weapon.
The US is the worst affected nation with a death toll of over 63,000 and 1,069,400 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The economic fallout is huge, with nearly four million more Americans filing for jobless benefits last week.
Some 30.3 million people in the US have now filed for financial aid in the six weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began in the country.
Trump also blamed the World Health Organisation for the pandemic. “I think the World Health Organization should be ashamed of themselves because they’re like the public relations agency for China,” he said.
Trump, however, did not hold his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping responsible for the global outbreak.
“I don’t want to say that, I don’t want to say that, but certainly it could have been stopped. It came out of China and it could have been stopped and I wish they had stopped it and so does the whole world wish they had stopped it,” he said.
China has come under increasing global pressure over lack of transparency in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far infected over 3,257,000 people and killed 233,400 other across the world.
Besides the US, the UK, Australia and Germany have also called for more transparency from Beijing on the COVID-19 origin.
Reiterating that the coronavirus could have been contained at Wuhan Trump said, “They were either unable to, or they chose not to. And the world has suffered greatly.”
One of two things happened, he reasoned. “They either didn’t do it and you know they couldn’t do it from a competent standpoint or they let it spread and I would say probably it got out of control.”
“But there’s another case that how come they stopped all of the planes and all of the traffic from going into China, but they didn’t stop the planes and the traffic from coming into the US and from coming into all over Europe,” he said, citing the example of Italy, the hardest-hit European country.
The US, he said “is very lucky” as his administration had put the ban on flights coming from China “very early on”.
Before holding China accountable, Trump said he wants to find out what happened.
“I think we’ll be able to get a very good — a very powerful definition of exactly what happened. We’re working on it strongly now and I think it’s going to be very powerful,” he said.
“But they could have stopped it. They are a very brilliant nation, scientifically and otherwise. It got loose, let’s say, and they could have capped it. They could have stopped it, but they didn’t, he said.
“We should have the answer to that in the not-too-distant future and that will determine a lot how I feel about China,” Trump said.
The entire world has suffered as a result of not stopping the virus outbreak in China, he said.
The WIV, specifically its P4 laboratory, is equipped to handle dangerous viruses.
Though the laboratory has denied the allegation in a statement in February, its director Yuan Zhiming, in his first media interview last month, rejected the allegation that his institute is the original source of the COVID-19.
“We know what kind of research is going at the institute and how the institute manages viruses and samples. There is no way that virus came from us. We have a strict regulatory regimen,” he told the state-run CGTN TV channel.
Referring to the US allegations, Yuan had said it is unfortunate that some people are “deliberately misleading” people without having any “evidence or knowledge”. (PTI)