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Chinese official claims US army may have brought coronavirus to China

13:23 | 13/03/2020

Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, has suggested that the US army may have brought the deadly coronavirus into China, while a US lawmaker warned up to 150 million people in the country could eventually be infected with the novel coronavirus.

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Zhao, made the assertion on Twitter late Thursday (Mar 12), echoing similar conspiracy theories proliferating on Chinese social media that blame the US for the pandemic.

The head of China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said himself that the source of the virus was wild animals sold at a market in the central city of Wuhan.

But in recent days, Chinese officials and a prominent health expert have claimed that the virus may have originated elsewhere as Beijing has angrily hit back at US officials for calling the disease the "Wuhan virus".

In his tweet, Zhao posted a video of the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifying before Congress that some Americans who were believed to have died from the flu were posthumously diagnosed with the COVID-19 illness.

"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?" Zhao tweeted.

"It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owes us an explanation!"

Chinese officials have themselves been accused of attempting to cover up the outbreak as police in Wuhan reprimanded and silenced doctors who had raised the alarm about the virus as early as December.

US officials have angered China by linking the virus with the country, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling it the "Wuhan virus".

The foreign ministry has rejected the term as "despicable" and "disrespecting science".

Robert O'Brien, the US national security adviser, insisted on Wednesday that the birthplace of the virus was China.

"This virus did not originate in the United States, it originated in Wuhan," O'Brien said at the Heritage Foundation think tank.

"Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up," he said.

He said China had "cost the world community two months to respond" to the epidemic, which has now killed nearly 5,000 people and infected more than 130,000 worldwide.

Had China been more cooperative and allowed foreign experts on the ground earlier, he said, "we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what is now happening across the world".

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Thursday called OBrien's remarks "extremely immoral and also irresponsible", saying China's tough quarantine measures to contain the virus had won the world "hard-won precious time".

At the same time, the domestic spread of the disease has slowed markedly in the past seven days. The capital of Hubei, Wuhan, reported all eight new cases on Wednesday, the National Health Commission said on Thursday.

Outside of Hubei, mainland China had seven new cases, including six cases imported from abroad.

Overall, the 15 new confirmed cases in mainland China on Wednesday was a drop from 24 cases a day earlier.

That brings the total number of confirmed cases recorded in mainland China to 80,793.

Even as China's cases dropped, the outbreak continued to spread around the world with US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib warned that between 70 and 150 million people in the country could eventually be infected with the deadly virus.

"Congress's attending physician told the Senate that he expects between 70 to 150 million people to eventually contract the coronavirus in the United States," Tlaib said during a hearing of the House of Representatives with members of the president's coronavirus task force.

US media outlet Axios had reported that doctor Brian Monahan conveyed the projection to Senate senior staff on Tuesday, telling them they should prepare for the worst and offering advice on how to remain healthy.

The upper end of the projection is about 46 per cent of the US population of 327 million people. By comparison German Chancellor Angela Merkel alerted this week that up to 70 per cent of her country's population could get the virus.

About 80 per cent of coronavirus cases are mild, and the overall mortality rate is around 1 per cent, according to the latest estimate provided by Fauci to Congress on Wednesday.

At the low end of the projection this would mean about 700,000 deaths. At the high end it would mean 1.5 million deaths.

As of Friday, there has been more than 1,600 cases and 40 deaths in the US, according to a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describing the new coronavirus as a pandemic for the first time on Wednesday.

The WHO said Italy and Iran were now on the frontline of the disease and other countries would soon join them./.

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VNF/AFP/CNA