A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US of bringing the novel coronavirus to China in a tweet on Thursday.
Rabat – Zhao Lijian’s comments fall in line with a conspiracy theory that has recently gained popularity in China.
“When did patient zero begin in the US?” Zhao Lijian wrote. “It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”
The theory proposes that US military members brought the virus to China in 2019 when Wuhan held the World Military Games. Proponents of the theory have not given any evidence for it.
The comments come as the Chinese government is receiving heavy criticism for its delayed response to the virus and its attempts to cover up initial reports.
“The outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” said Robert O’Brien, the White House national security advisor, according to the Washington Examiner. “It probably cost the world community two months.”
The novel coronavirus, which the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, has infected over 139,000 people globally. China reported the first case in Wuhan on December 31, 2019. Over 5,100 people have died.
The Chinese government initially tried to hide the outbreak, silencing whistleblowers who warned of its severity. The response led to international criticism, with some officials speculating China could have reduced the scale of the outbreak if it had responded more efficiently and transparently.
“I think we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what’s now happening across the world,” O’Brien said.
The Chinese government has been pushing back against the suggestions, with Zhao’s tweets a continuation of attempts to distance the origin of the virus from China while praising the country’s containment efforts.
As the outbreak grew, China instituted strict restrictions on travel, placing the entire region of Hubei under quarantine in late January. Recently, the country has seen a sharp decrease in new cases, with only 21 new cases reported on March 12.
The tweets came not long after a statement by another Chinese spokesperson, Geng Shuang, calling for an end to accusations and blame regarding the disease.
“Faced with the pandemic, the guiding consensus for all countries is to join hands and overcome difficulties together,” Geng said. “Pointing fingers at others is certainly not constructive.”