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President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claims that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan lab are getting little support elsewhere, with the World Health Organization, Western intelligence sources and even Trump’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci all saying there is no evidence to back the theory.
Trump made the claims at a White House press briefing last Thursday, claiming he had seen evidence that COVID-19 had originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doubled-down on Sunday, saying there was “enormous evidence” to back up the theory.
But the narrative has found little support elsewhere, with leading health and intelligence authorities pushing back on the claim and saying the evidence pointed elsewhere.
“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what's out there now, (the scientific evidence) is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” Dr. Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told National Geographic in an interview published Monday.
“Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that (this virus) evolved in nature and then jumped species.”
The World Health Organization — which Trump slammed last week as acting “like the public relations agency for China” — also dismissed the president’s claims Monday, describing the theory as “speculative.”
“We have not received any data or specific evidence from the United States government relating to the purported origin of the virus — so from our perspective, this remains speculative,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told an online press conference.
Meanwhile, intelligence sources in Britain and Australia told The Guardian that there is no evidence that the virus had leaked from the Chinese lab.
The sources also cast doubt on a recent “15-page dossier” — purportedly leaked from the Five Eyes intelligence network comprising the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and Canada — that was the basis of a report in Australia’s Daily Telegraph on Saturday, claiming that a researcher at the Wuhan lab was the virus’s patient zero, and that China had orchestrated a cover-up.
The sources told The Guardian that the dossier did not appear to be based on classified Five Eyes documents but rather on open source, public domain material.
Three of the four other members of Five Eyes have declined to back up Trump’s claims on the origin of the virus so far, with officials in Ottawa and London saying it was too early to draw conclusions, and that further investigations are needed. On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison went further, saying it was “most likely” that the virus had come from a wildlife wet market in Wuhan, while calling for an independent international investigation.
As the virus has ravaged the U.S., both Washington and Beijing have sought to blame the other for the catastrophic spread of the virus, prompting warnings from the WHO that the politicized blame-laying could hamper efforts to respond to the pandemic.
The Trump administration, which has long angered Beijing by referring to coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan virus,” has recently ratcheted up efforts to paint China as the villain, reportedly pushing U.S. intelligence agencies for information that could support the theory that the outbreak began in the Wuhan lab. The push prompted concern among analysts that the intelligence could be distorted for use in a growing clash over the pandemic with Beijing.
For its part, China has sought to portray itself as a country that has successfully contained its own outbreak and has been using its resources and expertise to help the rest of the world, while spreading a conspiracy theory via state media that a U.S. military athlete brought the virus to Wuhan during the World Military Games in October.
Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, warned Monday against politicizing any inquiry into the origin of the virus, saying that if the questions were framed as an “aggressive investigation of wrongdoing, then I believe that's much more difficult to deal with.”
“Science needs to be at the center,” he said. “If we have a science-based investigation and a science-based inquiry… then that will benefit everybody on the planet.”
Already, the allegations from Trump and Pompeo have drawn a bristling response from Beijing, with Chinese state media editorials accusing the Secretary of State of “bluffing” with his “groundless accusations."
“Since Pompeo said his claims are supported by ‘enormous evidence,’ then he should present this so-called evidence to the world, and especially to the American public who he continually tries to fool,” read an editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper Monday.
“The truth is that Pompeo does not have any evidence, and during Sunday's interview, he was bluffing.”
Cover: President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Daniel O'Day, CEO of Gilead Sciences Inc., in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, May 1, 2020, in Washington. U.S. regulators are allowing emergency use of first drug shown to help coronavirus patients that is made by Gilead. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)