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Covid-19 origins

Trump claims to have seen evidence that Covid virus originated in Wuhan lab

US President Donald Trump is turning on China over its coronavirus response ahead of his reelection attempt
US President Donald Trump is turning on China over its coronavirus response ahead of his reelection attempt AFP

US president Donald Trump claims he has seen evidence that the virus causing the current pandemic originated in a Chinese laboratory. He has threatened to impose tariffs to punish Beijing for its alleged role in the global outbreak. But the  president's assertion was immediately undermined by his intelligence chief and by his top diplomat, who have admitted that there is no definite evidence.


Trump's remarks came during a two-hour press conference on the latest US latest employment figures. Statistics show that 30 million Americans have lost their jobs during the lockdown aimed at slowing down the spread of the virus.

Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans, emerging in China late last year, possibly from a market selling exotic animals for meat.

But speculation and conspiracy theories have suggested that the virus was created at a top-secret laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a claim reinforced by internet rumours and increasingly taken up by the US president.

Asked if he had seen evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the outbreak, Trump replied, "Yes, I have." But the president refused to give details.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, indicated he had not seen definitive evidence.

"We don't know precisely where it began," he said.

"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."

Meanhile, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said analysts "will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine" the source of the outbreak.

Beijing has denied the laboratory was the source of the virus.

Attacked by a bat

In early February, Chinese scientists Dr Xiao Botao from the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, and Dr Xiao Lei, from Wuhan University of Science and Technology, seemed to suggest the opposite.

They published an article describing a researcher who was “once attacked by a bat and the blood of the bat shot on his skin,” after which he self-isolated for 14 days.

The article claims that experiments with bats were performed in the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is only 280 meters away from the Seafood Market.

“Speculation was that Sars-CoV or its derivative might leak from the laboratory,” writes Xiao, adding that “in addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer virus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.”

But after stern denials by China's state media and a letter, published on 19 February in the medical journal The Lancet, signed by 27 scientists saying that "conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus," Beijing quickly cracked down.

The article by Xiao Botao and Xiao Lei disappeared from the international academic data base Research Gate, but can be re-traced through the Wayback Machine, the Internet’s archive.

Last month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian pointed out that World Health Organization officials have repeatedly stated that there is no reliable evidence that the new coronavirus was produced in a laboratory. "Many well-known medical experts also believe that the so-called laboratory leak hypothesis has no scientific basis,"

President Trump is making Beijing's handling of the outbreak a major issue in his November re-election campaign.

When asked about reports that he could cancel US debt obligations to China, Trump said he could "do it differently" and act in "more of a forthright manner".

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