China has acknowledged it destroyed early samples of COVID-19, confirming a claim put forward by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late last month.
On Friday, Liu Dengfeng, a supervisor with China’s National Health Commission, admitted that ‘the Chinese government issued an order on January 3 to dispose of coronavirus samples’ at unauthorized laboratories, according to Newsweek.
But Liu denied that the samples were destroyed as part of a cover-up, insisting that they were disposed of so as to ‘prevent risk to laboratory biological safety and prevent secondary disasters caused by unidentified pathogens.’
He stated that the labs were ‘unauthorized’ to handle such samples, and they had to be terminated in order to comply with Chinese public health laws.
Liu did not specify how many labs destroyed coronavirus samples.
The admission comes amid souring diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China over the COVID-19 outbreak – which originated in Wuhan late last year.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month accused the Asian superpower of not being transparent about spread of the coronavirus.
‘The Chinese Communist Party still has not shared the virus sample from inside of China with the outside world, making it impossible to track the disease’s evolution,’ Pompeo stated at a briefing on April 22.
‘We strongly believe that the Chinese Communist Party did not report the outbreak of the new coronavirus in a timely fashion to the World Health Organisation,’ he added.
‘Even after the CCP did notify the WHO of the coronavirus outbreak, China didn’t share all of the information that it had.’
Pompeo continued: ‘Instead it covered up how dangerous the disease is, It didn’t report sustained human-to-human transmission for a month until it was in every province inside of China. It censored those who tried to warn the world in order to halt the testing of new samples, and it destroyed existing samples.’
As of Saturday afternoon, more than 4.59 million people around the world have tested positive to COVID-19. At least 309,000 have died.
The United States has been disproportionately affected by the disease, with the country accounting for almost a quarter of global cases and deaths.
Earlier this week, President Trump gave an interview with Fox Business Network, where he claimed he was ‘very disappointed in China’.
The coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan in December and was spreading silently as the U.S. and China signed a Phase 1 trade deal hailed by Trump as a major achievement.
‘They should have never let this happen. So I make a great trade deal and now I say this doesn’t feel the same to me. The ink was barely dry and the plague came over. And it doesn’t feel the same to me.’
Trump’s pique extended to Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom, Trump says repeatedly, he has a good relationship.
‘I just – right now I don’t want to speak to him. I don’t want to speak to him,’ Trump said.
Meanwhile, a Department of Homeland Security report shared last Sunday revealed US officials believe China ‘intentionally concealed the severity’ of the pandemic in early January and hoarded medical supplies.
The four-page report dated May 1 that was obtained by the Associated Press notes that China downplayed the virus publicly but increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies.
The document accuses China of covering their tracks by ‘denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data.’
It lends weight to a leaked dossier drawn up by the Five Eyes intelligence alliance which describes how Beijing made whistleblowers ‘disappear’, destroyed early virus samples and scrubbed the internet of any mention of the disease in the early stages.
The 15-page document brands Beijing’s secrecy over the pandemic an ‘assault on international transparency’ and points to cover-up tactics deployed by the regime.
It claims that the Chinese government silenced its most vocal critics and scrubbed any online scepticism about its handling of the health emergency from the internet.
China has roundly come under fire for suppressing the scale of its early outbreak which did not afford other nations time to react before the disease hit their shores.