Claims promoted by the Trump administration about the global coronavirus pandemic originating at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the central Chinese city are a “pure fabrication,” the institute’s director says.
Wang Yanyi told state media on Sunday the institute did not have any knowledge of the coronavirus, in terms of researching or keeping the virus, prior to it being officially reported and a global pandemic.
“We didn’t even know about the existence of the virus, so how could it be leaked from our lab when we didn’t have it?” he said.
His comments come following repeated claims from US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the coronavirus was released from the laboratory, despite scientists saying the pathogen was passed from bats to humans via an intermediary species likely sold at a wet market in Wuhan late last year.
The coronavirus has so far infected 5.3 million and killed more than 342,000 globally since first being reported in December.
Wang Yanyi’s comments come as a Chinese government’s top diplomat says the US should stop wasting time in its fight against the coronavirus and work with China to combat it, rather than spread lies and attack the country.
Sino-US ties have nosedived since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, with the administrations of President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping repeatedly trading barbs over issues related to the pandemic, especially US accusations of cover-ups and lack of transparency.
The two top economies have also clashed over Hong Kong, human rights, trade and US support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
Speaking at an annual news conference on the sidelines of China’s parliament, state councillor and the nation’s foreign minister Wang Yi said: “What China and the United States need to do the most is to first learn from each other and share their experience in fighting against the epidemic, and help each country fight it.”
He added China and the United States need to start co-ordinating macro policies for their respective economies as well as the world economy.
Wang said China remained prepared to work with the United States in the spirit of co-operation and mutual respect when asked if Sino-US relations would further worsen.
“China has always advocated that, as the world’s largest developing country and the largest developed country, both of us bear a major responsibility for world peace and development,” he said.
THE INDUSTRIES RECEIVING SUPPORT AFTER JOBKEEPER CUT-OFF
Arts, housing construction and tourism industries will receive federal government support beyond the September cut-off for JobKeeper in recognition of the sustained economic hit caused by the COVID-19 shut down.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged there will be additional targeted measures for industries unlikely to bounce back while bans on mass crowds and international border restrictions remain in place, including a comprehensive package for the arts due to be finalised in the coming weeks.
“There are many challenges that the economy will face beyond September, we know that, and there are particular sectors that will feel this for longer,” he said. “We will be considering that carefully.”
Mr Morrison said help would not be in the form of extending the criteria for the JobKeeper wage subsidy in light of an “administrative error”, which meant the program cost $60 billion less than estimated.
Mr Morrison said he ultimately took responsibility for the mistake, but warned the extra funds were not about to be quickly spent, likening the sudden windfall to a house build coming under budget.
“What it means is that Australians won’t have to borrow as much money,” he said.
“It’s not going to cost Australia more money, it’s going to end up costing Australians less.”
Mr Morrison said the government would not be borrowing any more than what was needed to deliver the program under its current parameters, adding he took “responsibility” for the error.
“What people were told is we’d drawn a line in the sand on the eligibility for that program … now treasury made an estimate of what that would cost, that estimate was cautious, it overstated what the demand would be,” he said.
Mr Morrison said treasury officials were ordered to pour over the JobKeeper program looking for any more mistakes after the bungle was discovered last week.
He added JobKeeper was designed to work alongside JobSeeker and other support programs, which together would support more than five million Australians.
“Sure the estimate was overstated and the process with the taxation office to keep us updated on that had a flaw in it, we acknowledge that, I acknowledge that,” Mr Morrison said.
“This is not money that is sitting in the bank somewhere, this $60 billion, this is money that would have otherwise had to be borrowed against the taxes that future generations would pay and so the result of this is that the program will cost not what it was estimated to cost and that means for the taxpayer, their debt levels will be lower, their interest bill will be lower and the government will be able to ensure it will continue to provide the many other essential services without the burden of that greater debt.”
AUSTRALIA’S PUSH FOR WHO INDEPENDENT INSPECTION POWERS
Australia will continue its push for the World Health Organisation to be granted independent inspection powers despite increasing tensions with China.
Beijing officials have openly criticised Australia for claiming victory in securing a COVID-19 inquiry at the World Health Assembly last week, arguing the motion – which was backed by China – was nothing like what the federal government had been proposing.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not backed down from pursuing options to grant the WHO weapons inspector-style powers.
“Australia has advanced, I think, a very common sense idea and it’s not directed at any one country, it would simply be the idea that in future, including here in Australia if there was ever something like this that would occur again, that we might have the ability to ensure that we were able to access information as quickly as possible,” he said.
“That is not a criticism, that’s … a very common sense and straight forward suggestion and we’ll just work with the various agencies to see if that can be achieved.”
Mr Morrison said he did not think China’s moves against Australian barley and red meat exporters were linked to Australia’s international efforts securing a COVID-19 inquiry.
“We see this from time to time, and I can understand in current circumstances why lines might be drawn by some but I would caution against that, there is a regularity to some of those things we’ll continue to manage each of those issues on their merits,” he said.
COVIDSAFE APP DOWNLOADS PASS SIX MILLION
Six million Australians have downloaded the COVIDSafe app less than a month after being launched to help health authorities across the nation trace coronavirus infections.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the app is playing a significant role in Australia’s response to the pandemic and several countries have expressed interest in learning from its positive impacts.
“Australia continues to be a world leader in testing, tracing, and containing the coronavirus and I would encourage all Australians to contribute to that effort and download the COVIDSafe app today,” Mr Hunt said in a statement on Sunday.
Only state and territory health officials have access to contact information from the app which is triggered when people come in close contact with someone who has the virus – that is 1.5 metres or less for a duration of 15 minutes or more.