The head of the Wuhan lab that has provided much speculation over the origin of the coronavirus has spoken out after months of silence.
Claims promoted by the Trump administration that the global coronavirus pandemic originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the central Chinese city are a "pure fabrication", Wang Yanyi, the institute's director said.
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Wang was quoted by state media Sunday as saying the institute did not have "any knowledge before that nor had we ever met, researched or kept the virus".
Wang claimed the institute first received a clinical sample of the "unknown pneumonia" on December 30 last year.
"After we checked the pathogen of the sample, we found it contained a new coronavirus.
"We didn't have any knowledge before that, nor had we ever met, researched or kept the virus.
"In fact, like everyone else, we didn't even know about the existence of the virus, so how could it be leaked from our lab when we didn't have it?"
President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have repeatedly said they suspect the virus that was first detected in Wuhan was somehow released from the laboratory.
Wang was grilled by China "mouthpiece" CGTN over the possibility that samples of bat virus in the lab could have caused the outbreak.
She spoke of Wuhan Institute of Virology's Professor Shi Zhengli, who authorities immediately turned to in the mission to identify the virus we now know as Covid-19.
Earlier this month, Shi insisted the Covid-19 virus did not escape from her "world-class lab", a theory even Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton floated, insisting the new virus does not match the genetic sequence of samples she had previously worked on.
"Their research has been focusing on source tracing of SARS," Wang said.
"In their research what they pay more attention to and do more research on and try to isolate and obtain are bat coronaviruses similar to SARS.
"What we know that the whole genome of SARS—CoV—2 is only 80 per cent similar to that of SARS.
"It's an obvious difference.
"Professor Shi and her team have isolated and obtained some coronaviruses from bats. Now we have three strains of live viruses. But their highest similarity to SARS—CoV—2 only reaches 79.8 per cent."
When asked what she had done to track the virus, Wang said "the current consensus of the international academic community is that the virus originated from wild animals. But we still clearly don't know what kind of viruses that all different wild species carry on themselves across the globe and where the viruses which are highly similar to SARS—CoV—2 are.
"This is why it needs the co-operation between scientists all over the world to find answers.
"Therefore, the issue of origin tracking is ultimately a question of science which requires the scientists to make judgments based on scientific data and facts."
Most scientists say the pathogen that has infected 5.3 million and killed more than 342,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, was passed from bats to humans via an intermediary species likely sold at a wet market in Wuhan late last year.
The virus' toll continued to ebb in Asia and other parts of the world, with China on Sunday reporting three new confirmed cases and just 79 people remaining in treatment for Covid-19.
The New York Times devoted Sunday's entire front page to a long list of names of people who have died in the pandemic.
The names and brief descriptions culled from obituaries from around the country fill six columns under the headline "U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, an Incalculable Loss".
"They Were Not Simply Names on a List. They Were Us," read the subheadline.
In Australia, officials said 6 million residents have downloaded the mobile telephone app that helps health authorities trace coronavirus infections.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the COVIDSafe app is playing a strong role in Australia's response to the disease.
Trump played golf at one of his courses Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend as he urged US states to relax their lockdowns. Yet many Americans remained cautious as the number of confirmed cases nationwide passed 1.6 million.
In California, where many businesses and recreational activities are reopening, officials in Los Angeles County said they would maintain tight restrictions until July 4.
Statewide, New York reported its lowest number of daily coronavirus deaths – 84 – in many weeks in what Governor Andrew Cuomo described as a critical benchmark. The daily death tally peaked at 799 on April 8.
Turkey, which has recorded over 155,000 infections, imposed its toughest lockdown measures yet for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Yemen's Houthi rebels urged believers to use masks and stay inside, as authorities try to contain infections at a time usually marked by multigenerational feasting and collective prayer.
In Germany, which has drawn praise for its handling of the virus, seven people appear to have been infected at a restaurant in the northwest of the country. It would be the first such known case since restaurants started reopening two weeks ago.
And in Frankfurt, more than 40 people tested positive after a church service of the Evangelical Christian Baptist congregation May 10. A church leader said the congregation has cancelled gatherings and is now holding services online.
Mindful of evangelical Christians who are key to his base ahead of November's election, Trump on Friday called houses of worship "essential" and urged governors to let them reopen over the weekend. However, leaders of many denominations said they plan to move gradually and cautiously.
France allowed in-person services to resume Saturday after a legal challenge to a ban on gatherings in places of worship.
One of the world's major pilgrimage sites is reopening Sunday: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
Latin America is the latest epicentre of the virus, and experts note the limitations of government action in a region where millions have informal jobs and many police forces are unable to enforce restrictions.
Brazil and Mexico reported record numbers of infections and deaths almost daily this week, fuelling criticism of their presidents for limited lockdowns. But infections also rose and intensive care units were swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador, all lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.
Concerns are rising in India, where new cases showed another record jump Saturday, topping 6000 for a second consecutive day as a two-month lockdown has eased.
While some countries are facing a second wave of infections, badly hit Russia is still struggling with its first and reported more than 9000 new cases Saturday.