WHO say they want to participate in Chinese probe into origins of Covid-19 after President Trump claimed he has seen evidence it started in Wuhan laboratory
- World Health Organization said it was hoping for an invitation from Beijing to take part in its investigation into how coronavirus originated in animals
- Trump said he was confident the virus came from a lab in Wuhan, China
- The president also warned he could impose tariffs of $1 trillion on China as a punishment for the pandemic
- He seemed to rule out withholding US debt payments to China calling it a ‘rough game’ that could damage the ‘sanctity’ of the dollar
- Sources said US officials are seeking retribution from the nation, such as canceling debt or stripping China of its ‘sovereign immunity’
- Trump also blasted the World Health Organization Thursday
- He then cast doubt on the theory the virus jumped from animals to humans
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
The World Health Organization said today it would like to take part in Chinese investigations into the origins of the coronavirus.
The UN agency said it was hoping for an invitation from Beijing to take part in its probe into how the disease originated in animals, then jumped to humans.
President Donald Trump yesterday said he has seen evidence that coronavirus started in the Wuhan virology laboratory and warned he could impose tariffs of $1 trillion on China in retribution for the pandemic.
It came after US intelligence said it found no evidence the virus was man-made or genetically modified in a laboratory.
Today WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic the agency wants to be part of the Chinese scientific research.
He said: ‘WHO would be keen to work with international partners and at the invitation of the Chinese government to participate in investigation around the animal origins.’
President Trump taking questions from reporters after speaking about the coronavirus pandemic in the East Room of the White House in Washington yesterday
Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli is seen inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province, in February
Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a news conference in Geneva. The WHO said it wants to take part in the Chinese investigations
The president made his explosive allegation that the coronavirus that has caused millions of infections and wreaked havoc on the global economy may have been created in the Chinese lab during his coronavirus press briefing on Thursday.
He also suggested the federal government is exploring ways to punish China for triggering the outbreak by imposing tariffs but he stopped short of saying he would refuse to pay back US debts.
‘Yes I have. Yes I have,’ Trump said when asked if he had seen proof the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Technology.
The lab is located near a wet market that has been identified as the likely epicenter of the outbreak that took place late last year.
However, the president would not divulge what the evidence was that confirmed his suspicions, when asked by a reporter.
‘I can’t tell you that. I am not allowed to tell you that,’ he responded.
When asked if he would consider refusing to pay US’s debts to China as punishment, the president said he ‘could do it differently’ and suggested the US will impose high tariffs of around $1 trillion on the nation.
‘I could do the same thing but even for more money just putting on tariffs,’ he said.
‘So I don’t need to do that. It’s approximately a trillion dollars – a little bit more I understand but we can do that in probably a little bit more of a forthright manner.’
President Trump said Thursday he has seen evidence that coronavirus started in the Wuhan virology laboratory, as he warned he could impose tariffs of $1 trillion on China in retribution for the pandemic
Trump said withholding debt payments would be a ‘rough game’ that could damage the ‘sanctity’ of the dollar and ruled out taking this approach.
‘You start playing those games and that’s tough,’ he continued.
‘We have the dollar to protect. We want to protect the sanctity of the dollar, the importance of the dollar. It’s the greatest currency in the history of the world.’
The president continued: ‘It’s a good question to say, ‘well oh gee, we owe you a certain amount of money, we’re going to keep it’. But when you start playing that game you really start hurting the sanctity of the greatest currency on earth but we can do it in other ways.
‘We can do it with tariffs. We can do it with other ways beyond that without having to play that game – that’s a rough game.’
Trump’s comments came after reports emerged that US administration officials were discussing canceling US debt obligations to China.
US intelligence officials and government agencies were scheduled to meet Thursday to come up with a plan to punish or demand financial compensation from China over the pandemic, two sources told the Washington Post.
One option on the table was to cancel the debt, while another was to strip China of its ‘sovereign immunity’.
George Sorial, who formerly served as a top executive at the Trump Organization and has filed a class-action lawsuit against China, told The Post senior White House officials were discussing limiting China’s sovereign immunity so that the government could sue China for damages over the pandemic.
This file photo taken on February 23, 2017 shows Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province. Trump has touted the theory the lab may be the origin of the coronavirus
‘Punishing China is definitely where the president’s head is at right now,’ one senior adviser said.
A source also told Reuters a range of options are being discussed to punish China, with the State Department, White House National Security Council, Treasury Department and Pentagon, developing options.
‘There is a discussion as to how hard to hit China and how to calibrate it properly,’ they said.
But some officials told The Post they are advising the president against such action, because this could damage the supply of critical medical goods from China to the US amid the pandemic.
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry hit back at the US Thursday, warning the ‘enemy is the virus, not China’.
‘As for punishment or accountability, as I have repeatedly stated, such rhetoric has no legal basis, and there’s no international precedent,’ said Geng Shuang.
‘At this time, undermining others’ efforts will end up undermining oneself.’
In Thursday’s press conference, Trump also cast doubt on the theory the virus jumped from animals, likely a species of bat, to humans, as coronaviruses have in the past.
‘We are going to see where it is. We’re going to see where it comes from. You know every theory,’ Trump said.
‘You had the theory from the lab, you had the theory from many different – the bats, the type of bat. And the bat is 40 miles away so it couldn’t have been here or couldn’t have been there there. There’s a lot of theories,’ Trump said.
‘But yeah, we have people looking at it very, very strongly. Scientific people, intelligence people and others. And we are going to put it together and have a very good answer eventually,’ he said.
Mystery: The path for the coronavirus getting into human beings remains unclear despite advances in knowledge of the virus itself seen (left) in a simulation and (right) under an electron microscope
But Trump was also optimistic that China, who US officials have bashed for keeping out experts and failing to fully come clean on the virus, would be forthcoming.
‘And China might even tell us. China may tell us,’ Trump said.
Trump was responding to a statement from his own Director of National Intelligence, whose office issued a statement knocking down conspiracy theories on the subject.
‘The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,’ it said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also blasted China for its conduct related to the virus, and Chinese state media have hit back in highly personal terms.
Pompeo on Wednesday accused China of spreading disinformation. He has referred to COVID-19 as the ‘Wuhan virus.’
‘The mere fact that we don’t know the answers – that China hasn’t shared the answers – I think is very, very telling,’ said Pompeo.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also blasted China for not letting the U.S. in to examine the Wuhan lab
He also has pushed China to let outside experts into the lab ‘so that we can determine precisely where this virus began.’
Senior administration officials are pushing US spy agencies to search for information of the link, the New York Times reported. Some analysts raised concerns the pressure could warp US conclusions and assessments.
As well as China, the president launched yet another attack on the World Health Organization Thursday.
‘And I think the World Health Organization ashamed of themselves — because they are like the public relations agency for China,’ he said of the UN body based in Geneva during the press conference.
‘And this country pays them almost $500 million a year, and China only pays $38 million a year.’
‘They should be making excuses when people make horrible mistakes that are causing thousands of people around the world to die,’ Trump said.
He spoke as his U.S. unemployment claims rose by another 3.8 million, U.S. deaths due the virus hit 60,000, and his own electoral prospects are down in battleground polls.
‘We’re looking at exactly where it came from, who it came from, how it happened. Separately and also scientifically. So we’re going to be able to find that,’ Trump said.
Proximity: The virus has been linked to the wet market in Wuhan, which sold wildlife for meat. U.S. officials have highlighted it being a ‘few miles’ from the virology laboratory
Why did China build a virus lab in Wuhan?
A worker is seen inside the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan on February 23, 2017
Chinese officials decided to build the Wuhan Institute of Virology after the country was ravaged by an outbreak of SARS in 2002 and 2003.
SARS, another kind of coronavirus, killed 775 people and infected more than 8,000 globally in an epidemic that lasted about eight months.
It took the Chinese 15 years to fully complete the project, which cost a total of 300million yuan (£34million). The French helped design the building.
Its crown jewel is a four-storey lab with the highest biosafety level of P4.
It’s the most advanced laboratory of its type in China.
Construction of the lab was finished in 2015 and it officially opened on January 5, 2018, after passing various safety inspections.
Describing the significance of the P4 lab, China Youth Online billed it as the ‘aircraft carrier of China’s virology’. The state-run newspaper said it ‘is capable of researching the deadliest pathogens’.
One researcher, Zhou Peng, told state news agency Xinhua in 2018: ‘We are proud to say that we are already at the forefront in the field of studying the immunity mechanism of bats, which carry viruses for a long time.
‘Bats carry viruses but are not infected [by them]. [They] provide hope for mankind to study how to fight viruses.’
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