The United States has stepped up its pressure on China over the coronavirus pandemic, with President Donald Trump saying that his administration was trying to determine where the deadly disease originated from, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on Beijing “to come clean” on what it knows.
At a White House news conference on Wednesday, Trump was asked about the reports of the virus escaping from a laboratory in Wuhan, where the coronavirus first appeared. “We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened,” he said. Asked if he had raised the subject in his conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump said: “I don’t want to discuss what I talked to him about the laboratory, I just don’t want to discuss, it’s inappropriate right now.” At least 136,000 people around the world have now died from the disease, with almost 31,000 in the US alone.
More than two million people have been diagnosed with the virus, while at least half a million have recovered. Trump’s top diplomat, Pompeo, meanwhile told Fox News Channel after Trump’s news conference, “we know this virus originated in Wuhan, China,” and noted that the Institute of Virology was only a handful of miles from the market, where people first came down with the disease. “We really need the Chinese government to open up” and help explain “exactly how this virus spread,” Pompeo added.
“The Chinese government needs to come clean,” he said. The state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology dismissed reports that the virus may have been artificially synthesised at one of its laboratories or escaped from its facility as far back as February.
Deadly consequences for delay
Trump and Pompeo’s comments follow an Associated Press news agency report, which blamed Chinese authorities for failing to immediately disclose information about the human-to-human transmission of the virus, also known as COVID-19, which allowed the virus to spread beyond Wuhan. Fox News claimed on Wednesday that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory as part of China’s effort to demonstrate that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than the capabilities of the United States. This report and others have suggested the Wuhan lab where virology experiments took place and lax safety standards there led to someone getting infected and appearing at a nearby “wet” market, where the virus began to spread.