China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Sunday his country is working hard to understand the new virus that’s sparked a global panic but that rumors about its origins will fan rumors and “stir up xenophobia.”
Ambassador Cui Tiankai was responding to suggestions by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and others that the coronavirus may have come from a Chinese “super laboratory” instead of popping up in a live-animal market in Wuhan, China.
“How can we believe all these crazy things?” Mr. Cui told CBS’s Face the Nation. “It’s probably coming from some animal, but we have to discover more about this.”
“A lot is still unknown, and our scientists … are doing their best to learn more about the virus. It’s very harmful, very dangerous to stir up rumors,” he added.
Mr. Cui also paid homage Dr. Li Wenliang, who died of the virus after blowing the whistle on its dangers — only to be silenced by local authorities.
“He was a devoted doctor and he did his best to protect people’s health. We are so grateful to him,” Mr. Cui said.
Mr. Cui allowed that Dr. Li might have picked up on dangers earlier than others. But he also seemed to defend China’s approach, saying the government faced different standards in assessing the situation and raising public alarm than an individual doctor would.
“I don’t know who tried to silence him. There was certainly disagreement,” Mr. Cui said.
As it stands, the coronavirus has sickened over 37,000 and killed more than 800 people in mainland China, surpassing the global death toll of SARS — another acute respiratory disease — in 2002-2003. Also, a U.S. citizen died from the disease in Wuhan, officials said Saturday.
There have also been hundreds of cases reported outside of China in over 20 countries.
Mr. Cui said there is ongoing contact between U.S. and Chinese experts and that American scientists will be included in a list of World Health Organization experts dispatched to China.
U.S. officials said they offered experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directly but did not get a response.
“I don’t think it’s been ignored,” Mr. Cui said, redirecting the conversation to the WHO team. “We welcome the American experts to participate in our efforts.”
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