Trump claims on Covid-19 origins criticised as ‘conspiracy theory’

Donald Trump’s claim that the coronavirus outbreak could have originated in a Chinese laboratory has been labelled “unhelpful” because it risks undermining the public health response to the pandemic.

The US president said on Thursday that he had seen evidence that the virus came from an infectious disease laboratory in Wuhan, and suggested its release was a “mistake”.

But Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, said on Friday: “We have good evidence from the genomics research that the virus is not man-made, and the scientific world has very much moved on from this idea.

“It is unhelpful for high-profile individuals to repeat the debunked conspiracy theories, as it undermines the public health response.”

Brendan Wren, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also commented.

“Having been to Wuhan a number of times and having had infectious disease researchers from Wuhan working in my labs in London, I don’t believe that there have been any deliberate or nefarious activities with the SARS-Cov-2 virus,” he said.

He added that the city of Wuhan has “excellent state-of-the-art infectious disease facilities”.

“It is generally accepted that the virus has mutated naturally and it has been very difficult to contain within the human community,” he said.

“It should be noted that pandemics occur throughout history and indeed we have them every year.

“These include other viruses and bacteria; for example, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that we know through human activities, such as travel, spread rapidly worldwide.

“Pandemics happen naturally and it is unnecessary to invoke a conspiracy theory.”

Mr Trump’s intelligence agencies are examining the suggestion from the president and his aides that Covid-19 could have been unleashed accidentally from China.

On Thursday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement from the intelligence community saying that it “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified”.

It added: The IC (intelligence community) 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.”

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Mr Trump said: “It’s a terrible thing that happened.

“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.”

“Certainly it could have been stopped,” he said, adding: “They either couldn’t do it from a competence standpoint, or they let it spread.

“It got loose, let’s say, and they could have capped it.”

The Chinese government said any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing”.

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