US president Donald Trump has announced Washington will open investigations on whether the COVID-19 pandemic began in a Chinese laboratory, with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo calling on Beijing to "come clean" on the outbreak.
The US wanted "the Chinese government to open up" to explain "exactly how the virus spread", Pompeo told Fox News on Wednesday, noting that China's Institute of Virology was located in the outbreak epicentre of Wuhan.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 16, 2020
"There is still lots to learn. The United States government is working diligently to figure it out," he added.
Fox News added that allegedly weak safety standards at the laboratory resulted in the outbreak, with a person becoming infected and the disease appearing at a nearby wet market.
The news comes after President Trump said at a White House presser on Wednesday that he was aware of reports alleging the virus had escaped from the Wuhan lab.
"We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened," the US president said.
When asked whether he had discussed his suspicions with Chinese president Xi Jinping, Trump said: "I don't want to discuss what I talked to him about the laboratory, I just don't want to discuss, it's inappropriate right now."
Speaking on Wednesday, Trump accused China of misreporting on the virus, stating the US had more cases "because we do more reporting", the Telegraph reported on Wednesday.
“Do you really believe those numbers in this vast country called China, and that they have a certain number of cases and a certain number of deaths; does anybody really believe that?"
Trump plans to send guidelines on reopening states to governors on Thursday, adding it was a "very big day", despite ongoing lockdowns and the president failing to cite evidence that COVID-19 cases had peaked in the US at the presser.
Chinese, US Experts Debunk Coronavirus 'Bioweapon' Conspiracy Theories
Despite claims from the Trump Administration, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General Mark Milley, stated on Tuesday that US intelligence community agreed the coronavirus was a natural pandemic and not linked to the Chinese facility.
Gen Milley said: "There’s a lot of [rumour] and speculation in a wide variety of media, blog sites, etc. It should be no surprise to you that we have taken a keen interest in that, and we have had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that."
He added that evidence was "inconclusive" despite indicating the virus's origin as "natural, but we do not know for sure".
But a damning report in February from researchers at The Ohio State University, University of Pennsylvania and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others, fully debunked "speculations, rumours and conspiracy theories" on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report read: "Some people have alleged that the human [COVID-19] was leaked directly from a laboratory in Wuhan where a bat [was] recently reported, which shared ~96 [percent] homology with the [virus]."
The report added that bat featured at the laboratory was "highly unlikely" responsible for the epidemic as the strain of coronavirus in the animal and the strain causing the pandemic contained significant differences.
Genome sequences in the coronavirus used in a 2015 study from Nature Medicine, cited in Chinese social media, also lacked "scientific basis and must be discounted because of significant divergence in the genetic sequence" of the virus with the pandemic COVID-19.
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) April 15, 2020
The developments come just a day after the US president suspended funding to the World Health Organisation, citing a review on the intergovernmental body's "mismanagement" of the pandemic and alleged bias towards Beijing.
Former MI6 chief, Sir John Sawers accused China of "evading" responsibility over the outbreak, adding that the WHO would face "serious questions" for failing to scrutinise the Chinese, as numerous pundits in the US and UK intelligence communities urging a shift in Western policy towards the world's second-largest economy.
To date, nearly 640,000 people in the US have been infected with the virus, resulting in roughly 31,000 deaths. Global cases have surpassed 2m, with 137,666 deaths reported, recent figures show.