Beijing’s campaign to cast doubt on the origin of the coronavirus is instigating a row with Washington as a top Chinese official has started to blame the US Army for the pandemic, reports the AFP.
With cases of coronavirus dramatically falling in Chin (and raising globally) Beijing has been renouncing the claim that the deadly outbreak started in Wuhan. Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian went a step further tweeting that “it might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan” — without providing evidence.
2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation! pic.twitter.com/vYNZRFPWo3
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020
Zhao doubled down on his claim by posting a link to an article from a website known for publishing conspiracy theories. Critics usually alert against rumours have also permitted Chinese social media users to spread similar claims about the US being behind the virus.
A video showing a US health official saying some flu victims were posthumously diagnosed as having had COVID-19 was among the top searched items on China’s Twitter-like Weibo this week, with some users saying it was evidence the virus originated in the US. China’s intention in promoting the conspiracy theory is “to divert from domestic discontent” over the handling of the outbreak, which has killed more than 3,100 people in the country.
Beijing themselves saw Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province as a threat as they placed the region with 56 million inhabitants under stringent quarantine to check the pandemic. However, Beijing began planting doubts when Zhong Nanshan, an expert affiliated with the National Health Commission, told reporters “the epidemic first appeared in China, but didn’t necessarily originate in China.”
Scientists, however, have long speculated that the virus started from an animal at the Wuhan market to a human before spreading globally.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that while the exact path the virus took between its animal source and humans is still doubtful, COVID-19 was “undiscovered before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019”.
Christl Donnelly, a professor of statistical epidemiology at Imperial College London, said genetic examination of coronavirus samples collected from globally shows a common ancestor in China. “This is not in any way blaming a particular country,” she told AFP.