President Donald Trump has claimed to see evidence coronavirus originated in a Wuhan laboratory, and said the outbreak could have been contained “relatively easily” by China.
At Thursday’s White House press briefing, the US President was asked if he had seen “anything that gives you a high degree of confidence” the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of the virus, to which he responded: “Yes I have.”
“We’re going to see where it comes from,” Trump said. “We have people looking at it very, very strongly. Scientific people, intelligence people, and others.
“We’re going to put it all together. I think we will have a very good answer eventually. And China might even tell us.”
Pressed to explain what evidence he had seen to suggest coronavirus had originated in the institute, the President responded: “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
Despite numbers of virus-related deaths in the US soaring over 63,000, Trump said the virus “could have been contained at the original location and it could have been contained relatively easily.”
Trump’s unsubstantiated claims came as US intelligence agencies concluded that coronavirus was “not man-made or genetically modified.”
In a statement released yesterday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said: “The intelligence community will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
Trump’s blaming of China has become a recurrent feature of his press conferences. After praising China at the start of the year, the President has dramatically changed course. Yesterday he threatened Beijing with new tariffs for China’s handling of coronavirus.
In comments that suggest anti-China posturing will be a key element of his re-election campaign this year, Trump said: “I don’t want to cast any dispersions [sic], I just will tell you that China would like to see sleepy Joe Biden [win the US election]. China doesn’t want to see me re-elected.”
Trump’s volte-face follows a leaked Republican party memo, published by Politico, encouraging candidates to target China in their responses to the pandemic.
“Coronavirus was a Chinese hit-and-run followed by a cover-up,” states the 17 April memo, which has been sent to Republican campaigns.
The Chinese government said that claims suggesting coronavirus was leaked by the Wuhan lab were “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing”.
Senior government figures in Beijing have retaliated to Trump’s accusations.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying tweeted: “The playbook for Blaming China has been exposed. Better stop and take back its systematic and organised attack, slander and defamation on China.”
Meanwhile, another 3.8m people lost their jobs in the US last week as unemployment continues to rocket.
And a coronavirus model from Northeastern University predicted that 100,000 Americans will die of Covid-19 by the end of the “first wave” at the end of the summer.