In February, China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology rejected allegations that the coronavirus was artificially synthesised in one of its laboratories and then ostensibly released.
US General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news briefing on Tuesday about evidence on the natural origins of COVID-19, at the same time admitting that there is no certainty on the matter.
He referred to “a lot of rumour and speculation in a wide variety of media, the blog sites, etc.” pertaining to speculation that the coronavirus was accidentally released from a Chinese laboratory.
“It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that. And I would just say, at this point, it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don’t know for certain”, Milley pointed out.
The comments followed Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian writing on his Twitter in March that the US Army might have “brought the epidemic to Wuhan”, where the outbreak originated in late December.
Zhao’s claims were immediately rejected by Washington, with the State Department arguing that China was trying to deflect criticism of its alleged role in “starting a global pandemic and not telling the world”.
This was preceded by China’s state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology saying in a statement in February that “internet rumours” had “received close attention from all walks of life” and “caused great harm to our research staff on the front line of scientific research”.
“Recently there has been fake information about Huang Yanling, a graduate from our institute, claiming that she was patient zero in the novel coronavirus”, the statement said, also referring to allegations about the institute “artificially synthesising” the virus in one of its laboratories.
The World Health Organisation, which declared COVID-19 a pandemic in early March, reported that as of Tuesday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has soared to more than 1,800,000, with over 117,00 deaths.