Kamis, 30 April 2020

Coronavirus: Donald Trump speculates China caused pandemic after ‘mistake’ or intentional act - The Australian

US President Donald Trump says he’s seen evidence the Wuhan Institute of Virology is the origin of COVID-19, not a wet market in the Chinese city, and the World Health Organisation should be “ashamed” for being a “public relations agency for China”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has supported Prime Minister Scott Morrison's calls for an international inquiry into the origins of the pandemic, with the Coalition refusing to back down regardless of economic backlash from China. “It started in China, and that is not a statement of accusation or criticism, it’s just a statement of fact,” Mr Morrison said. Mr Morrison’s stance was supported by his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, who condemned the business sector for “taking China’s side” publicly in the diplomatic feud between Australia and China. “All it does is encourage China to say yeah, we just stand up there and we threaten trade consequences,” Mr Turnbull said. Image: AP

US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Friday.
US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Friday.

The US intelligence community publicly confirmed it is trying to determine whether the coronavirus may have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, the city where the pandemic began.

In an unusual public statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, said that US intelligence agencies concur with a wide scientific consensus that “the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified”.

But ODNI, which coordinates the work of 17 US spy agencies, said US intelligence “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.”

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US intelligence agencies rarely discuss their work or conclusions publicly, and the ODNI statement marked a break from that pattern.

The rare statement came as President Donald Trump speculated that China could have unleashed the coronavirus on the world due to some kind of horrible “mistake” or even intentionally.

Mr Trump claimed to have seen evidence to support the theory that the origin was an infectious disease lab in Wuhan. He said the US now “is finding how it came out.”

“It’s a terrible thing that happened,” the president said. “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.”

The Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan.

Pressed by reporters at the White House for details, Mr Trump replied: “I cannot tell you that.”

Earlier, before Mr Trump’s comments, the Chinese government said that any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements biosecurity procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.

“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said.

He also criticised those in the US who say China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”

The Wall Street Journal and other news organisations previously have reported that American intelligence agencies are assessing whether the virus might have escaped from a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

China’s role in the spread of the virus has figured prominently into debates within the US, where more than one million have been infected with more than 61,000 killed. While experts in the US and elsewhere have faulted China for not sharing information about the outbreak more quickly, President Trump and his allies have often attacked Beijing when questioned about the administration’s own coronavirus response.

Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, for months has suggested a lab accident could have led to the pandemic. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly has called attention to possible involvement of the laboratory in Wuhan and insisted that China allow outside experts into the lab.

Donald Trump declined to say whether he holds Chinese President Xi Jinping responsible for what he feels is misinformation from China when the virus emerged from Wuhan, China, and quickly spread around the world.

No concrete evidence has emerged to support the lab theory, and the Chinese government has repeatedly denied it. Senior US officials have previously acknowledged efforts to look into whether the virus may have escaped from the Wuhan lab, where scientists study bat coronaviruses as part of a global effort to understand viruses that could pose danger to humans.

In mid-April, Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said US intelligence officials had taken a hard look at evidence regarding possible involvement by Chinese laboratories. “And I would just say at this point it’s inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don’t know for certain,” he said.

Susan Miller, an ODNI spokeswoman, disputed that the investigation was prompted by a request by the White House or other parts of the administration or that it had received pressure to arrive at a specific conclusion. “We take these allegations of political pressure very seriously and have seen no such actions to date. We have seen no evidence of this,” Ms Miller said.

Mr Trump — asked Thursday whether he agrees with the intelligence community’s conclusion that the virus was not man made or genetically modified — said he hadn’t seen the report on the matter. It was unclear what report Mr Trump was referring to.

Many scientific experts who have studied the virus say it is highly unlikely that it escaped from the Wuhan lab, and that the pandemic almost certainly began as a result of humans being infected from animals. Some biosafety experts, however, have questioned the Wuhan lab’s safety procedures and have said it is possible that scientists there were studying the virus and it escaped.

Workers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Picture: US EPA
Workers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Picture: US EPA

Experts in virus transmission have said that the novel coronavirus could have leapt from bats to humans directly or through an intermediate mammal in a variety of ways, including contact during hunting or transportation of animals. The genetic sequence of the virus bears strong resemblance to other bat coronaviruses that have been previously detected, and experts have said there don’t appear to be signs of humans engineering modifications to the virus.

Former US intelligence officials have said that definitively concluding the precise origins of the virus outbreak will be difficult, if not impossible, intelligence tradecraft alone.

To do so would require finding “a smoking gun,” said Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel of the National Security Agency. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we never end up with the actual definitive answer,” he said during an online event sponsored by George Mason University’s Hayden Centre.

The Wall Street Journal, agencies

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2020-05-01 04:49:00Z

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