President Donald Trump made the explosive charge that the coronavirus that has caused millions of infections and wreaked havoc on the global economy may have been created in a Chinese lab – and cast doubt on likely scenarios it jumped from animals to humans.
‘Yes I have. Yes I have,’ Trump said Thursday when asked if he has confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Technology was the origin of the virus. The lab is located near a wet market that has been identified as the likely epicenter of the outbreak that took place late last year.
Trump immediately veered into an attack on the World Health Organization.
‘We’re looking at exactly where it came from, who it came from, how it happened,’ President Donald Trump said Thursday
‘And I think the World Health Organization ashamed of themselves — because they are like the public relations agency for China,’ he said of the UN body based in Geneva. ‘And this country pays them almost $500 million a year, and China only pays $38 million a year.’
‘They should be making excuses when people make horrible mistakes that are causing thousands of people around the world to die,’ Trump said.
He spoke as his U.S. unemployment claims rose by another 3.8 million, U.S. deaths due the virus hit 60,000, and his own electoral prospects are down in battleground polls.
‘We’re looking at exactly where it came from, who it came from, how it happened. Separately and also scientifically. So we’re going to be able to find that,’ Trump said.
This file photo taken on February 23, 2017 shows Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province. Trump has touted the theory the lab may be the origin of the coronavirus
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blasted China for not letting the U.S. in to examine the Wuhan lab
The prevailing scientific theory is that the virus jumped from an animal species like a bat to humans, which might explain the outbreak at a Wuhan wet market
Trump was pressed on whether he is saying the virus was not naturally occurring – then made comments that threw cold water on one predominant theory put forward by his won experts: that the virus jumped from an animal, likely a species of bat, to humans, as coronaviruses have in the past.
‘We are going to see where it is. We’re going to see where it comes from. You know every theory,’ Trump said. ‘You had the theory from the lab, you had the theory from many different – the bats, the type of bat. And the bat is 40 miles away so it couldn’t have been here or couldn’t have been there there. There’s a lot of theories,’ Trump said.
‘But yeah, we have people looking at it very, very strongly. Scientific people, intelligence people and others. And we are going to put it together and have a very good answer eventually,’ he said.
But Trump was also optimistic that China, who U.S. officials have bashed for keeping out experts and failing to fully come clean on the virus, would be forthcoming.
‘And China might even tell us. China may tell us,’ Trump said.
Trump was responding to a statement from his own Director of National Intelligence, whose office issued a statement knocking down conspiracy theories on the subject. ‘The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,’ it said.
Mystery: The path for the coronavirus getting into human beings remains unclear despite advances in knowledge of the virus itself seen (left) in a simulation and (right) under an electron microscope
Proximity: The virus has been linked to the wet market in Wuhan, which sold wildlife for meat. U.S. officials have highlighted it being a ‘few miles’ from the virology laboratory
Why did China build a virus lab in Wuhan?
A worker is seen inside the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan on February 23, 2017
Chinese officials decided to build the Wuhan Institute of Virology after the country was ravaged by an outbreak of SARS in 2002 and 2003.
SARS, another kind of coronavirus, killed 775 people and infected more than 8,000 globally in an epidemic that lasted about eight months.
Its crown jewel is a four-storey lab with the highest biosafety level of P4.
It’s the most advanced laboratory of its type in China.
Construction of the lab was finished in 2015 and it officially opened on January 5, 2018, after passing various safety inspections.
Describing the significance of the P4 lab, China Youth Online billed it as the ‘aircraft carrier of China’s virology’. The state-run newspaper said it ‘is capable of researching the deadliest pathogens’.
One researcher, Zhou Peng, told state news agency Xinhua in 2018: ‘We are proud to say that we are already at the forefront in the field of studying the immunity mechanism of bats, which carry viruses for a long time.
‘Bats carry viruses but are not infected [by them]. [They] provide hope for mankind to study how to fight viruses.’
Trump also appeared to knock down the possibility of not paying on debt held by China as retaliation.
You start playing those games and that’s tough. You know we have the dollar to protect,’ Trump said. ‘That’s a rough game.’
The Washington Post reported administration officials have discussed having the U.S. cancel debt obligations.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blasted China for its conduct related to the virus, and Chinese state media have hit back in highly personal terms.
Pompeo on Wednesday accused China of spreading disinformation. He has referred to COVID-19 as the ‘Wuhan virus.’
‘The mere fact that we don’t know the answers – that China hasn’t shared the answers – I think is very, very telling,’ said Pompeo. He also has pushed China to let outside experts into the lab ‘so that we can determine precisely where this virus began.’
Senior administration officials are pushing U.S. spy agencies to search for information of the link, the New York Times reported. Some analysts raised concerns the pressure could warp U.S. conclusions and assessments.
According to Reuters, a range of options are being discussed to punish China, with the State Department, White House National Security Council, Treasury Department and Pentagon, developing options.
‘There is a discussion as to how hard to hit China and how to calibrate it properly,’ a source said.