The Wuhan Institute of Virology – Hector RETAMAL/AFP
There is “enormous evidence” that the global coronavirus pandemic started at a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday.
Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Mr Pompeo ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing by laying the blame for the disaster, which has claimed nearly a quarter of a million lives across the world, at China’s door.
Most experts believe the virus originated at the wet food market in Wuhan and jumped from live animals – probably bats – to humans.
But Mr Pompeo joined President Donald Trump in instead pinpointing the source of the virus at the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“There’s enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” he said. “We have said from the beginning, that this was a virus that originated in Wuhan, China. We took a lot of grief for that from the outset.
“But I think the whole world can see now. Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running sub-standard laboratories.
“These are not the first times that we have had the world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab.”
He declined to say whether he thought the virus had been deliberately released. Earlier in the week, Mr Trump said he could not discuss what evidence he had seen to support the claim.
The Chinese government has repeatedly denied the allegations that the disease originated in one of its laboratories.
Last week US spy agencies dismissed suggestions that the Covid-19 virus had been developed at a Chinese biological weapons facility. The Office of National Intelligence said it found no evidence to support the theory.
Mr Pompeo’s remarks reflect a hardening of the administration’s line in recent weeks, as it accuses Beijing of mismanaging the outbreak.
Anger has been mounting in Washington at the human and economic toll inflicted on the US by Covid-19 – dubbed the “Chinese virus” by Mr Trump.
The disease has claimed at least 68,000 American lives – 10,000 more than in the Vietnam War.
There is speculation that the US could be ready to impose new tariffs on Chinese goods, despite having sealed a trade deal with Beijing.
Mr Pompeo rounded on how Beijing had handled the outbreak, accusing China of downplaying the threat it posed.
It was, he said, “a classic Communist disinformation effort. That created enormous risk.” He added: “President Trump is very clear: we’ll hold those responsible accountable.”