US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there is a “significant amount of evidence” the COVID-19 outbreak originated from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Mr Pompeo’s declaration differs from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said on Friday he had seen no evidence suggesting a lab was the likely source and the most likely scenario was a Wuhan wildlife wet market.
US President Donald Trump said last week he had a high degree of confidence the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Mr Trump’s statement prompted the World Health Organisation to reiterate its view the new coronavirus was of natural origin
US intelligence agencies say they are still examining the claim that COVID-19 started in the Wuhan lab – but Mr Pompeo was more definite.
“I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Mr Pompeo told America’s ABC TV network on Sunday (local time).
Mr Pompeo said China “has a history of infecting the world and they have a history of running substandard laboratories”.
“These are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab,” he said.
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He also briefly contradicted a statement issued last week by the top US spy agency.
“The best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” Mr Pompeo said.
When the interviewer pointed out that was not the conclusion of US intelligence agencies, Mr Pompeo backtracked, saying: “I’ve seen what the intelligence community has said. I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong.”
His statement came as a four-page US Department of Homeland Security report obtained by The Associated Press claimed that Chinese leaders “intentionally concealed the severity” of the pandemic from the world in early January.
The report, which is dated May 1, states that, while downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, China increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies.
It attempted to cover up doing so by “denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data”, the analysis states.
The report says China held off informing the World Health Organisation of the full extent of the outbreak so it could continue to order medical supplies from abroad.
Mr Pompeo told the network he had no reason to believe that the coronavirus was deliberately spread but said China had a poor record on viruses.
“Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories,” he said.
He said the Chinese government could have prevented the spread of COVID-19, but instead used disinformation and concealment, with the help of the WHO, to hide and confuse the world.
He said the world was united in wanting to understand how the outbreak began – and backed Mr Morrison’s call for a global inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The Australians agree with that,” Mr Pompeo said.
“You hear the Europeans beginning to say the same thing.
“I think the whole world is united in understanding that China brought this virus to the world.”-with AAP