WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he was convinced the coronavirus might have originated at a Chinese virology laboratory, but declined to characterize the evidence, ratcheting up tensions with Beijing over the origins of the lethal outbreak.
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a presidential proclamation announcing an “Older Americans Month 2020” during an event about senior citizens along with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at the East Room at the White House at Washington, U.S., April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Trump did not mince words at a White House event on Thursday, when asked if he had seen signs that gave him a”high degree of assurance” the virus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“Yes, yes, I have,” he said, declining to give specifics. “I can’t tell you. I am not allowed to let you know that.”
The state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed the allegations, along with other U.S. officials have downplayed their chances. Experts believe the virus originated within a market selling wildlife in Wuhan and jumped from animals to people.
Trump has revealed increasing frustration within the pandemic, which has cost thousands of lives in the United States alone, sparked an economic contraction, and threatened his chances of with China in recent months.
The president stated previously his government was trying to determine whether the coronavirus emanated from the Wuhan laboratory, following media reports it may have been artificially synthesized at a China lab or escaped from a facility.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that it wasn’t known if the virus came in the laboratory.
“We don’t know if it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We do not know whether it emanated from the wet market or some other place. We don’t know those answers,” Pompeo stated in an interview with Newsradio 1040.
The spread of this coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, has led to a deepening rift between the Trump government and China. Beijing has indicated the U.S. military might have brought the virus to China, and Trump has stated China failed to alert the world to the dangers in a timely and transparent manner.
Trump also said on Thursday it had been possible that China allows it to spread or either couldn’t block the spread of the coronavirus. He declined to say whether he held Chinese President Xi Jinping responsible for what he feels is misinformation about the emergence of this coronavirus.
Trump said of China’s attempts to get to the base of how the virus arose: “They seem to be trying to be somewhat transparent with us.”
“But we’re going to discover. You’ll be learning in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, whether they made a mistake or if it started as a mistake and they left another one. Or did somebody do something on purpose,” he said.
Trump told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that he looked within the virus at several options in terms of consequences for Beijing. “I can do a lot,” he explained.
Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Steve Holland and Alexandra Alper; Testing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler.