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China now claims that the coronavirus pandemic started in a US lab

Published Jan 23rd, 2021 9:01AM EST
Coronavirus Pandemic Origin
Image: Mongkolchon/Adobe
  • Responding to Mike Pompeo’s recent claims that the novel coronavirus might have accidentally escaped from a Wuhan lab, China pushed back with its own conspiracy theories targeting the US.
  • A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said the biological lab at Fort Detrick should be investigated as a potential source of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • There is currently a WHO team in China investigating the origins of COVID-19, but it has not been more than a year since the Wuhan epidemic started.

In one of his last official acts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that the US has reason to believe the novel coronavirus pandemic may have started as an accident in a Wuhan lab, urging WHO officials to investigate the matter. Pompeo didn’t offer any proof when making the claims, which may have represented Trump’s final attempt to place the blame for the pandemic on China. But that was not the final episode in the blame game between the US and China, as the latter has now responded in kind. With two days of President Biden’s inauguration, Chinese officials began pushing their own conspiracy theory, claiming that the US is actually responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry said during a press conference on January 18th that the US should open Fort Detrick to an investigation of COVID-19’s origins. “I’d like to stress that if the United States truly respects facts, it should open the biological lab at Fort Detrick, give more transparency to issues like its 200-plus overseas bio-labs, invite WHO [the World Health Organization] experts to conduct origin-tracing in the United States, and respond to the concerns from the international community with real actions,” Hua Chunying said, via Quartz.

The comments were offered in direct response to a question on China’s reaction to Pompeo’s statement last week. On Wednesday, China imposed sanctions on nearly 30 former Trump administration officials, just before they left office. Pompeo was among them, although China’s foreign ministry’s official statement made no specific mention of COVID-19 claims when announcing the sanctions.

The consensus is that the novel coronavirus jumped from animals to humans at some point before the Wuhan epidemic. A WHO investigation is underway in China, more than a year after the initial outbreak. China delayed the investigation and attempted several times last year to offer alternative origin stories for COVID-19, pointing to the US, Europe, and the Indian subcontinent as potential sources of the virus.

China has faced criticism since the beginning of the pandemic for delaying measures that could have reduced the spread of the virus, for failing to confirm human spread on time, and for not being transparent about the way it handled its early response to the Wuhan outbreak. China’s COVID-19 figures for Wuhan were also questioned. China was ultimately able to contain the spread of the virus in the country, but it still kept stalling the investigation.

Last year, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused US athletes from the military who attended a sports event in Wuhan in 2019 of having brought the virus to the country.

On Monday, Hua’s comments went viral online in China, with the conspiracy theory gaining momentum on Weibo. Hashtags for foreign ministry and the US Fort Detrick biology lab trended on Weibo as Chinese media reported on Hua’s remarks. The Fort Detrick hashtag was viewed more than one billion times, while a post with Hua’s response received over 4.5 million up-votes. Some comments indicate that many people believe the conspiracy theory is true.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.