U.S. military says coronavirus likely occurred naturally but not certain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. intelligence indicates that the coronavirus likely occurred naturally, as opposed to being created in a laboratory in China, but there is no certainty either way, the top U.S. general said on Tuesday.

The remarks by Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could fan speculation about the coronavirus’ origins — something China has dismissed as a conspiracy theory that is unhelpful to the fight against the pandemic.

Asked whether he had any evidence that the virus perhaps began in a Chinese laboratory and was perhaps released accidentally, Milley was non-committal at a Pentagon news briefing.

“There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, the blog sites, etc. It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that,” Milley told a news briefing.

“And I would just say, at this point, it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don’t know for certain.”

As far back as February, the Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology pushed back against rumors that the virus may have been artificially synthesized at one of its laboratories or perhaps got out from there.

The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China.

A Washington Post opinion column published on Tuesday said the U.S. State Department in 2018 warned in diplomatic cables about safety and management weaknesses at a WIV laboratory.

A team of 27 scientists published a statement in the Lancet medical journal in February condemning the conspiracy theories, which “do nothing but create fear, rumors and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.”

They said scientists from around the world “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife”.

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