Canada is keeping a safe distance – for now – from the theory that the COVID-19 epidemic started by accident in a virology laboratory in China – a story that is gaining ground day by day, thanks to the White House, U.S. intelligence agencies, and media supportive of President Donald Trump.
One day it will be important to learn the true origin of the global pandemic to defend against similar epidemics in the future, Health Minister Patty Hajdu acknowledged on Monday.
But for now, she said, the federal government is focused on the health and safety of its citizens.
“There will be time and a lot of interest and importance (to understand) how this virus became widespread in the human species,” Hajdu said at a press conference.
“While these questions are important because they will help us prevent future outbreaks and understand what we can learn from this particular virus, what is even more important now is to stay focused on the health of Canadians and helping Canadians overcome the epidemic that we »re now. “
The theory – that the virus came from a level 4 microbiology facility at the Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in the same city where the epidemic appeared last December – has gone around blog articles, missives social media and conspiracy theory. Discussions on Reddit for months, long before COVID-19 became a household name.
But Trump, plagued by electoral anxiety and his hot and cold relations with China, has given him new life, helped by gullible media reports and an intelligence community now ready to give him faith, all at a time when clear answers to the worst global health crisis in a century is an exasperating shortage.
“We are going to receive a very solid report on exactly what we think happened, and I think it will be very conclusive,” Trump said Sunday at a Fox News town hall in the Lincoln Memorial.
“My opinion is that they made a mistake. They tried to cover it up. They tried to put it out. It’s like a fire. You know, it’s really like trying to put out a fire. They couldn’t put out the fire. “
Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was even more direct.
“There is huge evidence that this is where it started,” Pompeo said in an interview with the political program ABC “This Week”. “As the intelligence community continues to do its job, it should continue to do it and check it out so that we can be sure. I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this comes from this laboratory in Wuhan. “
All of this follows a remarkable statement last week from the office of the director of national intelligence, which said that US agencies were actively investigating “whether the epidemic began by contact with infected animals or if it was the result of a accident in a Wuhan laboratory. . “
He added, importantly, the United States agrees with the “broad scientific consensus” that the virus is neither of human origin nor genetically modified.
Yet the notion of the laboratory as the source of the pandemic – tempting, given the laboratory’s relative proximity to the so-called “wet markets” for food and animals long believed to be zero – fits perfectly with Trump’s blame. -The Chinese story, which was supported by credible reports that the country waited until it was too late to inform the world of the danger it was facing.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, said that she had seen no specific evidence that the laboratory was the culprit, but acknowledged that the world had more questions than answers to this stage on the true origins of the epidemic.
“I don’t think we have seen any specific information to say that this is a laboratory accident or a release, but at the same time, we do not know the exact origin of this virus”, said Tam.
Although it is widely believed that the new coronavirus originated in bats, a different animal probably should have been involved as an “intermediate host” to allow the virus to spread to humans, she noted . The identity of a likely host has not been confirmed, but preliminary research has identified snakes as well as pangolins, scaly nocturnal creatures that live in Asia and Africa.
“The natural history, the evolution of the virus can be found in the months to come, but sometimes you will not discover it until several months later. “
Fox News report Sunday, citing anonymous senior US officials, highlighted a Five Eyes intelligence alliance research brief – the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand – who accuses China of hiding or destroying evidence, and suggests that a large majority of American agencies believe that the virus comes from a laboratory.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when asked if Canada had formed an opinion based on what it had learned from the Five Eyes, refused.
“At this point,” he said on Sunday, “we are not drawing any firm conclusions.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 4, 2020.