In an interview published Thursday, US President Donald Trump repeated his suggestion that China may have deliberately started the coronavrius pandemic, while acknowledging he had no evidence to say so.
“There’s a chance it was intentional,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal, citing the economic battle between Washington and Beijing.
“They’re saying, man, we’re in a mess,” he said. “The United States is killing us. Don’t forget, my economy during the last year and a half was blowing them away. And the reason is the tariffs.”
Trump imposed punitive tariffs on China in 2018, citing unfair trade practices, leading to a drawn out tit-for-tat with the Asian superpower.
“I don’t think they would do that,” Trump added, noting he had no intelligence to suggest such deliberate action. “But you never know.”
Trump has made such suggestions in the past. He’s also floated the possibility that the virus accidentally escaped from a top secret virology lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan, claiming he had evidence but refusing to share it.
Numerous virus experts have stressed there is no evidence to suggest the pathogen was man-made or artificially manipulated, and that its structure and genetic material bear all the hallmarks of a naturally evolved virus.
Though virus cases continue to rise in many US states, Trump has fought for weeks to play down the risks of the coronavirus in a concerted push to get the country out of crisis mode ahead of the November election.
The president never wears a mask in public and mocks his Democratic challenger Joe Biden for his more cautious approach.
He has also scheduled a mass campaign rally for Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, leading to national criticism and claims he was endangering the public.
Meanwhile China has imposed travel restrictions on nearly half a million people near its capital to contain a fresh coronavirus outbreak.
The threat of a second wave hitting China, which had largely brought the virus under control, and rising tolls in Latin America and South Asia underscore the global challenge in slowing down the pandemic that has killed more than 450,000 people.
The world economy has also taken a hit, with the US Labor Department saying another 1.5 million American workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the number of people laid off, at least temporarily, by COVID-19 to 45.7 million.
With scientists around the globe racing to find a vaccine, the World Health Organization said it hoped that a few hundred million COVID-19 vaccine doses could be produced this year, and two billion by the end of 2021.
Europe meanwhile saw further restrictions lifted after months of confinement, with the restart of English Premier League games on Wednesday adding to a sense of a return to normality — albeit with empty stadiums.
In the United States, the world’s most affected country, the number of daily deaths dropped below 1,000 for a seventh day in a row but the number of new infections has plateaued at around 20,000 per day.
More than a dozen states are recording their highest number of new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
Brazil, second to the US, reported another 1,269 deaths on Wednesday as its overall toll rose above 46,500.
Early optimism that South Asia might have dodged the ravages of the pandemic has disappeared as soaring infection rates turn the densely populated region into a global hotspot.