WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump said he has little doubt that China misled the world about the scale and risk of the coronavirus outbreak and then sought to cover it up as the disease became a global pandemic.
"I think they made a very horrible mistake," Mr Trump said during an interview Sunday night (May 3) on Fox News. "They tried to cover it." The president then alluded to additional information he said will be coming out soon to back up his claims, which China has rejected.
Earlier, the Associated Press reported that US officials believe China covered up the extent of the outbreak, in part, to stock up on medical supplies needed to respond to it.
The president's comments come as US-China tensions climb amid the rising death toll from the virus in the US, which has the highest reported numbers of infections and deaths of any country, despite the outbreak first spreading more quickly in Asia and Europe. More than 65,000 people have died from the virus in the US so far, out of a reported 247,000 worldwide.
Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said "enormous evidence" shows the Covid-19 outbreak began in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, but didn't provide any proof for his claims.
"I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan," Mr Pompeo said on ABC's This Week. "These are not the first times that we've had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab."
Mr Pompeo stopped short of saying the virus was man-made, noting that he agreed with a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that ruled out genetic modification or it having been man-made. "I've seen what the intelligence community has said," said Mr Pompeo. "I have no reason to believe that they've got it wrong."
Mr Pompeo declined to say whether the Chinese intentionally released the virus. "I don't have anything to say about that," he said.
In his interview on Sunday, Mr Trump declined to directly criticise Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling him a "strong" leader whom he struck a trade deal with just as the outbreak was spreading. "I'm not going to say anything," Mr Trump responded when asked about Mr Xi. "I had a very good relationship with him."
Mr Trump and his aides sharpened their criticism of Beijing last week, demanding answers about the virus' origin. The president tweeted Friday that some US television networks are "Chinese puppets", while his super-political action committee unleashed anti-China ads.
"China behaved like authoritarian regimes do, attempted to conceal and hide and confuse," Mr Pompeo said on ABC. "It employed the World Health Organisation as a tool to do the same." The secretary said China continued to block access by health experts from the WHO, as well as US scientists, from getting access to samples of the virus needed for study.
"This is an ongoing threat, an ongoing pandemic," Mr Pompeo said. "The Chinese Communist Party continues to block access to the Western world, the world's best scientists, to figure out exactly what happened."