President Donald Trump on Thursday speculated that China could have unleashed the coronavirus on the world due to some kind of horrible “mistake,” and his intelligence agencies said they are still examining a notion put forward by the president and aides that the pandemic may have resulted from an accident at a Chinese lab.
Trump even suggested the release could have been intentional.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the clearinghouse for the web of U.S. spy agencies, said it had ruled out the virus being man-made but was still investigating the precise source of the global pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 people worldwide.
Though scientists suggest the likeliest origin of the pandemic remains natural, that it spread from an infected animal to a human, Trump claimed to have seen evidence to support the theory that the origin was an infectious disease lab in Wuhan, the epicenter of the Chinese outbreak.
He said the U.S. now “is finding how it came out.”
“It’s a terrible thing that happened,” the president said. “Whether they made a mistake or whether it started off as a mistake and then they made another one, or did somebody do something on purpose.”
The intel statement said the federal agencies concur “with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”
“The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
In recent days the Trump administration has sharpened its rhetoric on China, accusing the geopolitical foe and vital trading partner of failing to act swiftly enough to sound the alarm about the outbreak or to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. U.S. officials have said the Chinese government should “pay a price” for its handling of the pandemic.
This all comes as the pace of Trump’s own original response continues to come under scrutiny, questioned as too meager and too slow.
Earlier Thursday, before Trump’s comments, the Chinese government said that any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.