The Chinese government is using alleged World Health Organization findings to counter reports that the coronavirus may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory.
Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian pushed back against a growing body of evidence suggesting that the coronavirus unleashed in Wuhan late last year originated from a lab in the city studying infectious diseases. Lijian said that the WHO has already debunked the accusation, according to Reuters.
WHO officials “have said multiple times there is no evidence the new coronavirus was created in a laboratory,” Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Thursday.
President Trump announced on Wednesday that US officials are doing a “very thorough examination of this horrible situation.” US intelligence officials are investigating how the coroanvirus pandemic began, including one theory that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab and spread through the city after someone in the lab was infected, according to CNN.
On Wednesday, Fox News reported that the sources briefed on China’s early handling of coronavirus outbreak and who have seen classified and public reports on the outbreak say that the US government has “increasing confidence” that the virus began in a lab in Wuhan.
“There is increasing confidence that the COVID-19 outbreak likely originated in a Wuhan laboratory, though not as a bioweapon but as part of China’s attempt to demonstrate that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than the capabilities of the United States,” Fox News’ Bret Baier and Gregg Re reported.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that two US officials had visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology and sent warnings back to the US State Department over the lab’s poor safety measures and inexperienced researchers.
“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” Jamison Fouss, the consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health, wrote in a January 2018 memo.
“The researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases,” the memo states. “From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”
The investigation into the origins of the coronavirus is happening under a wider audit the US government is conducting of China’s handling of the pandemic. Top US leaders, based on US intelligence, have accused China of lying about its reported coronavirus infection and death rates.
“The claim that the United States has more coronavirus deaths than China is false. Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: The Chinese Communist Party has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, said in a statement April 1.
Trump has also blamed the WHO for its complicity in pushing Chinese propaganda about the virus. The president announced a temporary freeze on US funding for the WHO while officials investigate the UN health organization for “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”