The U.S State Department on Friday said it had new information suggesting the COVID-19 pandemic could have emerged from a Chinese laboratory and not through contact with infected animals, the latest salvo in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Beijing over the virus’s origins.
Specifically, the U.S. said it had obtained new evidence that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in the fall of 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak in the surrounding city, with symptoms it said were consistent with either COVID-19 or common seasonal illnesses.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said a statement that this contradicted reports that none of the staff at the institute had contracted COVID-19 or related viruses and urged the World Health Organization team that landed Thursday in Wuhan to “press the government of China” on the “new information.”
“Beijing continues today to withhold vital information that scientists need to protect the world from this deadly virus, and the next one,” Pompeo said.
The department said China’s lack of transparency about the pandemic’s origin more than a year ago, as well as efforts to mask early shortcomings in the country’s response to the outbreak, make it difficult to draw clear conclusions. But the brief, unsigned statement issued by the U.S. — less than a week before the end of the Trump administration — provided no data to back up its claims.