China is dismissing the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic originated in biosecurity laboratory and not from animal-to-human transmission in Wuhan as commonly believed.
Yuan Zhiming, director of Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, told the English-language state broadcaster CGTN on Saturday, "There's no way” the virus spread from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, specifically its P4 laboratory, which handles dangerous viruses.
He said suggestions that the coronavirus originated in the lab, popularized by conservative supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump, are “conspiracy theory.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” show on Sunday, “I think we’re still a long way” from figuring out the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s going to take us a while to really map and trace this particular virus … to get the scientific evidence of where this virus originated,” she said. “We know it originated in China. We just don’t know how and where.”
But she added, “I don’t have an evidence that it was a laboratory accident. I also don’t know precisely where it originated.”
“Right now, the general consensus is animal-to-human” transmission, she said.
U.S, Vice President Mike Pence told "Fox News Sunday" that China was “not as forthcoming to the U.S. or the world” about the coronavirus outbreak in December.
But on its specific origins, Pence said, “We’re going to make proper inquiries at the appropriate time.”
Yuan said none of the institute’s staff had been infected, adding the "whole institute is carrying out research in different areas related to the coronavirus."
Beijing has been criticized for lack of transparency in its handling of the pandemic, with the United States investigating whether the virus originated in the Wuhan lab, where Yuan is also a researcher.
The official tally of infections in Wuhan has been questionable from the very beginning with the government frequently changing its counting criteria at the peak of the outbreak.
Finally, last week, Wuhan authorities admitted mistakes about counting the death toll and raised the figure in the city by 50% to 3,869.
Although the origin of COVID-19 is yet to be determined, some scientists suspect the virus was transmitted to humans from animals at a wet market in Wuhan.