China Slams U.S. Covid Lab Claims as ‘Conspiracy Theories’

China accused the U.S. of spreading “lies” and “conspiracy theories” after the Trump administration said it had new information suggesting the coronavirus might have emerged from a Chinese laboratory.

A U.S. State Department “fact sheet” on the virus origins released Friday was “full of fallacies,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing Monday in Beijing. She dismissed the claims as the “last madness” of outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

“The so-called fact sheet is another lie sheet produced by the U.S. side,” Hua said. “This fully demonstrates that some U.S. politicians are keen on violating science, hyping up conspiracy theories, spreading political viruses for their personal gains, while paying no attention to public security and people’s lives. This is also the last madness of Pompeo -- Mr. Lies.”

Hua said that China was cooperating with the World Health Organization and its probe into the pathogen’s origins. A team of WHO experts arrived in China last week and is currently in quarantine.

The State Department said it had new evidence that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in the autumn of 2019 -- before the first identified case of the coronavirus in the central Chinese city -- with symptoms consistent with Covid-19 or common seasonal illnesses. The allegations mark the latest move by the outgoing Trump administration to pressure China over the origins of the virus, just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Where the novel coronavirus first emerged and how it transmitted to humans remains a mystery. Before the initial cluster among stall-holders at a food market in Wuhan, the trail largely goes cold. And Beijing has little incentive to help find the true origin of the greatest public health emergency in a century.

China is stepping up efforts to recast the coronavirus narrative amid growing scrutiny over its origins, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying earlier this month that “more and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world.”

Chinese diplomats have also floated unfounded theories that link the virus to U.S. military athletes and, after a spate of cases in Chinese port and cold storage workers, state-backed media claimed the virus could have entered the country on imported frozen food.

The U.S. didn’t say how it obtained the new information about illnesses at the lab. The State Department said Beijing’s lack of transparency about the virus’s origin -- along with efforts to mask initial shortcomings in responding to the outbreak -- made it difficult to draw clear conclusions.

“The virus could have emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, spreading in a pattern consistent with a natural epidemic,” the State Department said. “Alternatively, a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak if the initial exposure included only a few individuals and was compounded by asymptomatic infection.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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