Chinese scientists have said the virus likely jumped from an animal to humans in a market that sold wildlife in Wuhan, the city at the heart of the coronavirus crisis in China.
But the United States has now brought the allegations into the mainstream, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying US officials are doing a “full investigation” into how the virus “got out into the world”.
Mr Pompeo, United States Secretary of State, has appealed that Chinese authorities themselves, when they commenced investigating the virus, “measured whether the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was, in fact, the place where this came from”.
“We know they’ve not permitted the world’s scientists to go into that laboratory to evaluate what took place there, what’s happening there, what’s happening there even as we speak,” he said in a radio interview.
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The Washington Post and Fox News both quoted anonymous sources who voiced concern that the virus may have come – accidentally – from the facility.
US diplomatic cables seen by The Washington Post revealed that officials were especially concerned about inadequate safety standards related to researchers’ handling of SARS-like bat coronaviruses in the high-security lab.
Various conspiracy theories about the alleged origin of the coronavirus in the lab have flourished online.
The institute released a statement in February dismissing the rumours. It said it received samples of the then-unknown virus on December 30, 2019,determined the viral genome sequence on 2 January and submitted information on the pathogen to the World Health Organization on 11 January.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday rejected allegations that the lab was responsible for the outbreak.
“A discerning person will understand at a glance that the purpose is to create confusion, divert public attention, and shirk their responsibility,” said Mr Zhao, who himself promoted conspiracy theories the US army may have brought the virus to China.
David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also said there was no evidence about its origin but it is “closely related to a bat virus”.
“There are many theories of how humans could’ve been infected, and I don’t think any of them are able to be substantiated at present.”
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