U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday again pushed the theory that the novel coronavirus originated from a Chinese laboratory, and claimed he’s seen evidence to back it up.
But experts say the idea that the virus somehow escaped the lab before spreading to over 3 million people worldwide — or, worse, that it was man-made in that lab — is “ridiculous,” “foolish” and “implausible.”
Asked at a White House event if he’s seen evidence that gave him a “high degree of confidence” the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), Trump was quick to go along with the question.
“Yes, yes I have,” he said, though he declined to give specifics. “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
Trump further speculated that, even if it wasn’t man-made, the virus could have escaped the lab by mistake. “Or did somebody do something on purpose?” he added.
“Certainly it could have been stopped,” Trump continued. “They either couldn’t do it from a competence standpoint, or they let it spread.”
The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence says it has ruled out the virus being man-made, but is still investigating the precise source of the global pandemic.
China insists the lab is not to blame. Before Trump’s comments, a spokesperson for its foreign ministry said that any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.”
Yet the theory has continued to gain traction among conservative media outlets like Fox News, which Trump is known to watch regularly. The network reported in mid-April that sources had identified the so-called “patient zero” as an employee at WIV.
Yuan Zhiming, professor at WIV and the director of its National Biosafety Laboratory, told Reuters this week that “malicious” claims about the lab had been “pulled out of thin air” and contradicted all available evidence. He added the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.
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Scientists have said the likely source of the virus was a so-called “wet market” in Wuhan, where various wildlife was being sold. They also agree that the virus originated in bats, and likely spread to another animal sold at that market — identified as a pangolin — before spreading to humans.