The US President Donald Trump urged China to be transparent about the origins of the novel coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than a quarter of a million people since it started in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the virus emerged from a Chinese laboratory. He did not dispute U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it was not man-made, however.
The Chinese state-backed lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, has dismissed the allegation, and other US officials have downplayed the likelihood that it is true. Most experts believe the virus originated in a Wuhan market selling wildlife and jumped from animals to people.
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Trump, speaking to reporters outside the White House before leaving on a trip to Arizona, said the United States would release its report detailing the origins of the novel coronavirus over time, but gave no other details or timeline.
“We will be reporting very definitively over a period of time,” the Republican president said.
An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. (AFP)
Trump, who initially praised China over its response to the outbreak but has since blamed Beijing over the virus, said that he has not spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We want them to be transparent. We want to find out what happened so it never happens again,” he said.
Trump and Pompeo have offered conflicting statements on the origin of the virus. Trump was asked on Thursday if he had seen evidence that gave him a “high degree of confidence” the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and replied that he had, without giving specifics.
That same day Pompeo said that while the virus came from Wuhan, “we don’t know precisely where it began.”
Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told National Geographic in an interview published on Monday the best evidence showed the virus was not made in a lab in China but appeared to have "evolved in nature and then jumped species.”
Construction workers labor at the site of the Huoshenshan temporary field hospital being built in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, on January 30, 2020. (AP)
Asked if scientists could have found the virus outside the lab and brought it there, from where it escaped, Fauci said: “But that means it was in the wild to begin with. That's why I don't get what they're talking about why I don't spend a lot of time going in on this circular argument.”
US Health Secretary Alex Azar was asked on Fox News about differences between Pompeo's and Fauci's statements.
“I don't think there’s a distinction between them. Of course, Secretary Pompeo has access to information that Dr Fauci may not have, so there’s not necessarily a difference of opinion there,” he said on Tuesday.
The World Health Organization called Pompeo's comments “speculative”and called for a science-based inquiry.