U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was confident the coronavirus may have originated in a Chinese virology lab, but declined to describe the evidence, ratcheting up tensions with Beijing over the origins of the deadly outbreak.
Trump did not mince words at a White House event on Thursday, when asked if he had seen evidence that 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.”
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The Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed the allegations, and other U.S. officials have downplayed their likelihood. Most experts believe the virus originated in a market selling wildlife in Wuhan and jumped from animals to people.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has angered Beijing by calling for a global inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak, said he had no evidence to suggest the disease originated in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Morrison said on Friday that Australia had no information to support that theory, and said the confusion supported his push for an inquiry to understand how the outbreak started and then spread rapidly around the world.
“What we have before us doesn’t suggest that that is the likely source,” Morrison told a news conference in Canberra when asked about Trump’s comments.
“There’s nothing we have that would indicate that was the likely source, though you can’t rule anything out in these environments,” he said.
“We know it started in China, we know it started in Wuhan, the most likely scenario that has been canvassed relates to wildlife wet markets, but that’s a matter that would have to be thoroughly assessed.”
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), based in the city where the disease was first identified, has rejected suggestions the coronavirus came from its laboratory.
Relations between Australia and China have been strained since the government began canvassing support in mid-April for an international inquiry into the outbreak.
Beijing sees the inquiry call as part of U.S.-led propaganda against China, while Morrison says the world needs to understand exactly what happened to prevent a repeat of an outbreak that has so far killed more than 200,000 people and shut down much of the global economy.
“That’s why it is just so important to understand what happened, to make sure that we can prevent such a broadbased global catastrophe from happening again,” Morrison said.
Beijing’s ambassador to Australia said that Chinese consumers could boycott Australian beef, wine, tourism and universities in response to the push for an inquiry, comments members of Morrison’s government have called “threats of economic coercion.”
Australia has reported about 6,700 cases of the new coronavirus and 93 deaths, well below the levels reported in the United States and Europe. Growth in new infections has slowed to less than 0.5% a day, compared to 25% a month ago.
Morrison said it was imperative to lift social distancing restrictions as early as possible as 1.5 million people were now on unemployment benefits and the government forecast the unemployment rate to top 10% within months.
“We need to restart our economy, we need to restart our society. We can’t keep Australia under the doona,” Morrison said, using an Australian word for quilt.
Featured Image:-US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
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