Donald Trump has described the coronavirus outbreak as the “worst attack” the US has ever seen on its soil, surpassing Pearl Harbour and 9/11, blaming China for failing to contain the disease.
“This is worse than Pearl Harbour. This is worse than the World Trade Centre. And it should have never happened. It could have been stopped at the source. It could have been stopped in China. It should have been stopped right at the source, and it wasn’t,” he said at a White House gathering where he signed a proclamation honouring National Nurses Day.
Covid-19 has killed more than 255,000 people worldwide, including more than 70,000 in the US, making it the worst-affected country according to official statistics.
The virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. Most experts believe it originated in a market there selling wildlife and jumped from animals to people, although Pompeo has said there is significant evidence it came from a laboratory.
Pompeo pushed back against suggestions that he and other members of the Trump administration have issued conflicting statements about the exact origins of the novel coronavirus.
On Sunday, Pompeo said there was “a significant amount of evidence” the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, having said the previous Thursday it was not known whether it came from the lab, a so-called wet market, or elsewhere. The institute itself has denied the charge.
On Wednesday, Pompeo said the United States did not have certainty, but there was significant evidence it came from the lab. “Every one of those statements is entirely consistent,” he said. “We are all trying to figure out the right answer. We are all trying to get the clarity.”
Trump was asked last week if he had seen evidence that gave him a “high degree of confidence” that the virus came from the Wuhan Institute and replied that he had, although he declined to give specifics.
Pompeo insisted yesterday China was still withholding virus samples he said were needed for global vaccine research.
“People say, well America is bullying the Chinese. We are demanding of them only what we demand of every nation: be transparent, be open, be a reliable partner, the very things that they say. The Chinese say they want to cooperate. Great. Cooperation is about action.”
He also took aim at the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“It’s not only that they didn’t enforce… the WHO needs to still demand that there be an investigation,” Pompeo said, adding that WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus needed to be “just as concerned as the United States… and other countries that we still don’t have access to the answers we need.”