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Canada focuses on mitigating COVID-19, placing virus origin search on backburner

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Canada is keeping a safe distance — for now — from the theory that the COVID-19 outbreak began by accident in a virology laboratory in China — a narrative that’s gaining traction by the day, thanks to the White House, American intelligence agencies and media outlets friendly to President Donald Trump.

It will be important to one day learn the true origin story of the global pandemic to defend against similar outbreaks in the future, Health Minister Patty Hajdu acknowledged Monday.

But for now, she said, the federal government is focused the health and safety of its citizens.

“There will be time and a lot of interest and importance (in understanding) how this virus became prevalent in the human species,” Hajdu told a news conference.

“Although those questions are important, because they will help us prevent future outbreaks and understand what we can learn from this particular virus, what’s even more important right now is to stay focused on Canadians’ health and helping Canadians get through the outbreak that we’re in now.”

The theory — that the virus came from a Level 4 microbiology facility at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in the same city where the outbreak originated last December — has been making the rounds in blog posts, social-media missives and conspiracy-theory Reddit threads for months, long before COVID-19 became a household name.

But Trump, beset by electoral anxiety and his hot-and-cold relationship with China, has given it new life, aided by credulous media reports and an intelligence community now willing to give it credence, all at a time when clear answers about the worst global health crisis in a century are in maddeningly short supply.

“We’re going to be given a very strong report as to exactly what we think happened, and I think it’ll be very conclusive,” Trump said Sunday during a Fox News town hall from the Lincoln Memorial.

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“My opinion is they made a mistake. They tried to cover it. They tried to put it out. It’s like a fire. You know, it’s really like trying to put out a fire. They couldn’t put out the fire.”

Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was even more direct.

“There’s enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” Pompeo said in an interview on ABC’s politics show “This Week.” “While the intelligence community continues to do its work, they should continue to do that and verify so that we are certain. I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”

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