A conspiracy theory that the coronavirus originated in the US is spreading through China, fuelled by officials and a video from an interview with Centres for Disease Control (CDC) director Robert Redfield.
In a video posted by the People's Daily Mr Redfield suggests that some Americans who were previously thought to have died of influenza could have actually died from Covid-19.
When asked whether deaths in the US may have been wrongly attributed to influenza he replied: “Some cases have been actually diagnosed that way in the United States today.”
The video has reportedly sparked an online conspiracy theory pushed by Chinese officials that Covid-19 did not originate in China.
The Guardian reports that the Chinese microblog Weibo has seen a swell in social media engagement with the theory and the clip became one of the most popular topics on the site on Thursday.
According to the report, one commenter said: “The US has finally acknowledged that among those who had died of the influenza previously were cases of the coronavirus. The true source of the virus was the US!”
After the video emerged on Thursday a Chinese government spokesperson suggested that the US Army could be responsible for bringing the new coronavirus to China.
Lijian Zhao alleged in a tweet that read in part “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe(s) us an explanation!”
Authorities have been implying the virus could have originated overseas weeks before the clip found traction on social media.
In late February Dr Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist said that “though the Covid-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China,” according to Business Insider.
Zhong later clarified his statement, according to The Guardian, saying that the first place where a disease is discovered does not “equate to it being the source”.
He is said to have told reporters: “But neither can we conclude that the virus came from abroad. Only through investigation and tracing can we answer that question.”
China’s ambassador to South Africa said last week on Twitter: “Although the epidemic first broke out in China, it did not necessarily mean that the virus is originated from China, let alone "made in China".”
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian echoed the theory at a press conference on 4 March saying that “no conclusion has been reached yet on the origin of the virus, as relevant tracing work is still underway."
“The World Health Organisation has said many times that what we are experiencing now is a global phenomenon with its source still undetermined, and we should focus on containing it and avoid stigmatizing language toward certain places,” he said.
Mr Lijian stressed that he believed the focus on the origin of the virus is allowing the crisis to be politicised.
“By calling it "China virus” and thus suggesting its origin without any supporting facts or evidence, some media clearly want China to take the blame and their ulterior motives are laid bare," he said.
“The epidemic is a global challenge. The right move should be working together to fight it, which means no place for rumours and prejudice. We need science, reason, and cooperation to drive out ignorance and bias.”
Some members of the Trump administration are firmly insisting that the blame for the pandemic lies at the feet of the Chinese government.
National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien claimed that China “covered up” the initial outbreak of a coronavirus from Wuhan and that this slowed global response.
Donald Trump has also drawn criticism for his reference to the coronavirus as a “foreign virus.”
Additional reporting by the Associated Press
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