Donald Trump’s suggestion coronavirus could have originated in a Chinese laboratory has been labelled “dangerous” by scientists in the UK.
The US president said on Thursday he had seen evidence the virus came from an infectious disease laboratory in Wuhan, and suggested its release was a “mistake”.
When asked if he had seen evidence that gave him a "high degree of confidence", Trump replied: "Yes, yes I have”. When pressed further, the president declined to give specifics, saying "I can't tell you that. I'm not allowed to tell you that."
UK scientists have been highly critical of his comments, insisting there have not been any “deliberate activities” around the “misuse” of COVID-19 - and that they believe virus is not man-made.
Dr Jennifer Cole of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said:"Whenever there is a new disease outbreak, be it AIDS, Ebola, Zika or now SARS-Cov2, there are always conspiracy theories about deliberate bioengineering or laboratory escapes, and a jump to apportion 'blame' for the disease.
“There is often particularly a push to point the finger of blame at actors with whom the accuser has existing tensions: political rivals, for example.”
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She continued: “The danger in his approach is that it very hard to prove a negative - if there is evidence that the virus was ever present in the Wuhan laboratory, which as far as we know is not the case, it would 'prove' Trump's claim.
“While there continues to be no such evidence, Trump seems to be using this vacuum to fill the gap with the narrative that best suits his political position - that China is somehow responsible for the disease and the deaths it is causing, and is covering up its culpability.
“This is a dangerous political precedent that does nothing to support the international cooperation that is needed at this time to deal with the pandemic as best we can."
Dr Joshua Moon, research fellow in sustainability research methods in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said mistrust between nations would hamper the global effort to beat COVID-19.
“If countries are unable to trust one another to contain the spread of the disease, then we will see hoarding of PPE, “races” for vaccines, and competition between countries for resources that will harm the most vulnerable populations,” he said
Prof Brendan Wren, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, added: “Having been to Wuhan a number of times... I don’t believe that there have been any deliberate or nefarious activities with the SARS-Cov-2 virus. It is generally accepted that the virus has mutated naturally. Pandemics happen naturally and it is unnecessary to invoke a conspiracy theory.”
In his comments, Trump suggested the pandemic was a “mistake”.
“It’s a terrible thing that happened,” he 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. Certainly it could have been stopped.
“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.”
US intelligence agencies examined the notion put forward by the president and his aides.
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”.
Responding to Trump’s claims, the Chinese government say the notion that coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals.
He also criticised those in the US who say China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home”.