The Trump administration stepped up assertions that the coronavirus originated at a laboratory in Wuhan, adding more fuel to a point of tension between the U.S. and China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said he also has seen “enormous evidence” that Covid-19 virus originated in a laboratory in the Chinese city.
By Arthur Blok
Pompeo’s claims, made in an interview with ABC’s This Week, represented an escalation in rhetoric. He had previously said the US was looking into the possibility the virus came from a lab in Wuhan, China.
On Sunday, Pompeo said: “There is enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” later adding: “I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
At one point, the secretary of state appeared confused over whether he was claiming the Sars-CoV-2 virus (which causes the Covid-19 disease) was deliberately engineered or escaped as the result of a lab accident. “Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was manmade. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” he said.
But when he was reminded that US intelligence had issued a formal statement noting the opposite – that the scientific consensus was that the virus was not man made or genetically modified – Pompeo replied: “That’s right. I agree with that.”
Donald Trump made a similar claims last week, saying he was privy to evidence of the pandemic began in a Chinese lab but was not permitted to share it. In the same week the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Gen Mark Milley, said “the weight of evidence” pointed to natural transmission but was not conclusive.
Beijing has rejected the suggestion the virus could have escaped from a laboratory. But Chinese authorities have not allowed foreign experts, including investigators from the World Health Organization, to take part in the investigation into the origins of the virus. Nor have they shared samples taken from wild animals at the Wuhan livestock market where they claim the outbreak began.
Yuan Zhiming, professor at WIV and the director of its National Biosafety Laboratory, said “malicious” claims about the lab had been “pulled out of thin air” and contradicted all available evidence. “The WIV does not have the intention and the ability to design and construct a new coronavirus,” he said in written responses to questions from Reuters. “Moreover, there is no information within the SARS-CoV-2 genome indicating it was manmade.”
(With various agencies)