“They knew,” he said.
“China could have spared the world a descent into global economic malaise,” he said. “They had a choice but instead — instead — China covered up the outbreak in Wuhan.”
“China is still refusing to share the information we need to keep people safe,” he added.
More than 3.7 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide, nearly a third of them in the United States. Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, has killed more than 260,000 people, including more than 72,000 U.S. deaths.
Pompeo’s repeated condemnation of China has prompted Beijing to bristle at the chief U.S. diplomat in extremely personal terms, as he has spent most of his two years in office castigating the ruling Chinese Communist Party for its foreign policies, parsimonious humanitarian spending and, lately, its refusal to share precise information on the origins of the virus.
Last week, President Trump said the United States has evidence that made him confident that the coronavirus began in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In an ABC interview that aired Sunday, Pompeo said there was “enormous evidence” behind that assertion.
“I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Intelligence agencies are more uncertain, and Anthony S. Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease specialist, said that the coronavirus “was in the wild to begin with” and that he does not “spend a lot of time going in on this circular argument” about a lab origin.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday accused Pompeo of pushing a theory that “doesn’t have any” evidence.
“Mr. Pompeo repeatedly spoke up, but he cannot present any evidence. How can he? Because he doesn’t have any,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “I think this matter should be handed to scientists and medical professionals and not politicians who lie for their own domestic political ends.”
Pompeo grew testy with reporters who asked him Wednesday about the apparent inconsistencies in assertions coming from different parts of the administration. He accused one reporter of dedicating her life to driving a wedge between senior administration officials and said another reporter appeared unable to parse his grammar.
“We don’t have certainty, and there is significant evidence that this came from a laboratory,” he said. “Those statements can both be true. I’ve made them both. Administration officials have made them. They’re all true.
“We do not know, we don’t have certainty about whether it began in the lab or whether it began someplace else. . . . There’s an easy way find out the answer to that — transparency, openness, the kinds of things that nations do when they really want to be part of solving a global pandemic, when they really want to participate in the things that keep human beings safe and get economies going back again.”
Pompeo denied there was any “separation” or significant differences of opinion among U.S. officials who have looked at the available evidence.
“Every one of those statements is entirely consistent,” he said. “Every one of them. Lay them down together. There is no separation. We are all trying to figure out the right answer. We are all trying to get to clarity. There are different levels of certainty assessed at different places.”
“People stare at data sets and come to different levels of confidence,” he added. “Every one of us stares at this and knows the reality. The reality is this came from Wuhan. Every one of us stares at the situation and says: ‘Who can provide the answer to precisely where Patient Zero is from, where this actually came from?’ We all know who can unlock the keys to that.”
On another issue, Pompeo declined to confirm or deny Israeli media reports that he will travel to Jerusalem next week to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pompeo has sharply curtailed his international travel since the pandemic erupted, and the State Department issued a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” alert for the entire world.
The State Department has notified diplomats domestically and in capitals around the world to begin preparations to phase out of teleworking and return to work. Officials have said the changes will be phased in gradually and depend on local conditions.
Stay-at-home orders remain in effect in Washington, meaning most of the staff working there will continue teleworking for the time being. But Pompeo acknowledged he is eager for diplomats to return to the field and begin resuming the normal functions of diplomatic engagement.