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Top US general: Coronavirus appears to be of ‘natural’ origin

After report reveals American diplomats raised concerns about virus research on bats in Wuhan, Mark Milley says evidence ‘inconclusive’ that it originated in lab

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testifies to Senate Armed Services Committee about the budget, March 4, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testifies to Senate Armed Services Committee about the budget, March 4, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The top US military commander on Tuesday said American intelligence has examined the possibility that the new coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, but that it seemed to be of “natural” origin.

Gen. Mark Milley’s assessment came after the Washington Post reported that the US State Department in 2018 expressed concerns about a laboratory in the city of Wuhan that was performing coronavirus studies with bats. Wuhan was also the original epicenter of the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, blog sites, etc,” Milley said during a press briefing at the Pentagon, according to the Guardian.

“It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that, and we’ve had a lot of intelligence look at that. 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,” he added.

According to the Washington Post, US diplomats in China made multiple visits to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2018 and sent cables to the State Department warning of insufficient safety measures in place there.

People gather outside the Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, where a number of people related to the market fell ill with the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, January 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)

One of the cables warned the laboratory’s research on bat coronaviruses and their potential to be transmitted to humans posed a threat of a new SARS-style pandemic.

“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the report quoted the January 2018 cable as saying.

The cable also said: “From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”

Besides the Wuhan Institute of Virology, US officials have also suspected the Wuhan Center for Disease Control as a potential source for the virus.

There has been no conclusive evidence indicating the coronavirus outbreak originated in a laboratory and many scientists believe it first spread from bats to another animal, which in turn transmitted the virus to humans.

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