US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was confident the coronavirus originated in a Chinese virology lab but declined to provide any evidence for his claim that is likely to further increase tension with China over the origins of the pandemic.
Trump told reporters at the White House that evidence he had seen gave him a “high degree of confidence” the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“Yes, yes I have,” he said, declining to give specifics. “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
The Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed the allegations, and other officials in the United States have downplayed the idea. Intelligence agencies said on Thursday that the virus was “not man-made or genetically modified”, but that they were still investigating whether there could have been a lab accident or leak.
Most experts believe the virus originated in a market selling wildlife in Wuhan and jumped from animals to people.
Trump has shown increasing frustration with China in recent weeks over the pandemic, which has cost tens of thousands of lives across the world and triggered an unprecedented global economic contraction. The US has recorded more deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, than any other country, and the outbreak is threatening Trump’s chances of re-election in November.
The Republican president told reporters that US agencies were investigating how the virus first emerged and what China had done to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the world.
“We’ll be able to get a very powerful definition of what happened,” Trump said, adding that a report would be made to him in the “not too distant future”.
He has said previously his administration was trying to determine whether the coronavirus emanated from the Wuhan lab, following media reports it may have been artificially synthesised at a China state-backed laboratory or perhaps escaped from such a facility.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday it was not known whether the virus came from the lab.
“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,” Pompeo said in an interview with Iowa station Newsradio 1040.
The spread of the coronavirus has contributed to a deepening rift between the Trump administration and China. Beijing has suggested the US military might have brought the virus to China and Trump has said China failed to alert the world to the risks in a timely and transparent fashion.
Other countries have also been drawn into the dispute with Australia under pressure from China over its backing for an independent global inquiry into the virus’ origins.
Trump also said on Thursday it was possible that China either could not stop the spread of the coronavirus or let it spread. He declined to say whether he held Chinese President Xi Jinping responsible for what he feels is misinformation about the emergence of the coronavirus.
Trump said of China’s efforts to get to the bottom of how the virus emerged: “At least they seem to be trying to be somewhat transparent with us.”
“But we’re going to find out. You’ll be learning in the not-too-distant future. But it’s a terrible thing that happened – whether they made a mistake or whether it started off as a mistake and then they made another one. Or did somebody do something on purpose?” he said.