Donald Trump claimed he has seen evidence the new coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab, as he threatened tariffs on Beijing over its role in the global pandemic.
The US president’s assertion was immediately undermined by his intelligence chief and by his top diplomat, who said: “We don’t know precisely where it began.”
Lockdowns that have crippled the global economy for weeks continued to ease, with South Africa allowing some industries to reopen from Friday, joining parts of Europe and some US states that have begun to emerge in the last few days.
But the good news was tempered by data showing a further haemorrhaging of jobs, with 30 million Americans newly unemployed since lockdown began, as businesses lose customers.
Underlining the slump in consumer demand, Irish airline Ryanair said it was slashing 3,000 positions, forecasting passenger numbers would not recover until mid-2022.
While death rates slowed in most of Europe, the global toll from the pandemic has now topped 230,000.
Scientists believe the killer virus jumped from animals to humans, emerging in China late last year, possibly from a market in Wuhan selling exotic animals for meat.
But speculation has swirled about a top-secret lab, reinforced by internet rumours and right-wing shock jocks — and increasingly taken up by the US president.
Asked if he had seen anything giving him a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the outbreak, Trump replied, “Yes, I have.”
He refused to give details.
However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated he had not seen definitive evidence.
“We don’t know precisely where it began,” he said.
“We don’t know if it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We don’t know if it emanated from the wet market or yet some other place. We don’t know those answers.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said analysts “will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine” the origin of the outbre
Last month foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “(World Health Organization) officials have repeatedly stated that there is no single evidence that the new coronavirus was produced in a laboratory.”
Armed protestors try to enter the chamber of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing during a rally organized by Michigan United for Liberty demanding the reopening of businesses
Many well-known medical experts in the world also believe that the so-called laboratory leak hypothesis has no scientific basis,”
Trump is making Beijing’s handling of the outbreak a major issue for his November re-election campaign.
When asked about reports that he could cancel US debt obligations to China, Trump said he could “do it differently” and act in “more of a forthright manner”.
“I could do the same thing but even for more money, just putting on tariffs,” he said.
– Eurozone gloom –
The latest jobless claims by another 3.84 million Americans mean roughly nine percent of the US population have filed for unemployment benefits in the pas.