WASHINGTON — President Trump offered competing messages on Saturday about how his administration would handle China’s alleged culpability in the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in the city of Wuhan.
Speaking at the daily briefing of the coronavirus task force, Trump seemed to suggest that his response would differ depending on revelations on how the outbreak began.
“A mistake is a mistake,” the president said. “But if China was knowingly responsible, there will be consequences.” He did not explain what he meant, but appeared to be referencing speculation — so far unproven — that the virus was accidentally released from a laboratory in Wuhan conducting research on the pathogen.
Most epidemiologists believe that the virus is zoonotic, meaning that it originated from animals — bats, specifically — before jumping to humans. But at Friday’s briefing, Trump said that the species of bat that allegedly spawned the virus was not endemic to Wuhan and its environs.
“They talk about a certain kind of bat, but that bat is not in that area. If you can believe it, that is what they are down to, bats,” Trump said.
As he has done for several days, Trump continued to suggest that China has vastly underreported the number of deaths in that country attributable to the coronavirus. On Saturday, however, that argument was bolstered by Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, who said that China’s mortality rates were not believable, especially in light of what other countries were reporting.
She called China’s statistics “basically unrealistic.” Trump added his own thoughts as Birx was making her presentation. “Does anybody really believe this number?” he asked.
Asked if China was now cooperating with the U.S. to ascertain how the pandemic unfolded, Trump said, “Well, they said they’re doing an investigation, that they’re doing an investigation, so let’s see what happens with their investigation, but we’re doing investigations also.”
Trump recently signed a trade deal that will have China buy $250 billion in goods from the United States. At the same time, he is plainly desperate to find someone on whom to pin the blame for the outbreak, which has killed more than 30,000 in the U.S. while leaving millions without work.
The president also said the news media had been complicit in allowing China’s figures to go unquestioned.
“Why didn’t the press, you people, figure that out, though?” Trump said. “Why do we have to put up a chart?”
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