What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Concerns grow that kids spread virus

U.S. students are returning to school in person and online in the middle of a pandemic, and the stakes for educators and families are rising in the face of emerging research that shows children could be a risk for spreading the new coronavirus.

Several large studies have shown that the vast majority of children who contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have milder illness than adults. And early reports did not find strong evidence of children as major contributors to the deadly virus that has killed more than 780,000 people globally.

But more recent studies are starting to show how contagious infected children, even those with no symptoms, might be.

Grave situation in renewed South Korea outbreak

Novel coronavirus infections have spread nationwide from a church in the South Korean capital, raising fears that one of the world’s virus mitigation success stories might yet suffer a disastrous outbreak, a top health official said on Thursday.

“The reason we take the recent situation seriously is because this transmission, which began to spread around a specific religious facility, is appearing nationwide through certain rallies,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.

The positive cases from the rallies include people from nine different cities and provinces across the country. Kim did not identify those places but said 114 facilities, including the places of work of infected people, were facing risk of transmission.

Brazil sees signs spread is slowing

The spread of the coronavirus in Brazil could be about to slow, the Health Ministry said, amid reports the transmission rate has fallen below a key level and early signs of a gradual decline in the weekly totals of cases and fatalities.

The cautious optimism comes despite figures again showing a steady rise in the number of confirmed cases and death toll in the last 24 hours, cementing Brazil’s status as the world’s second biggest COVID-19 hot spot after the United States.

According to ministry data, Brazil saw a drop in the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases to 304,684 last week from a peak of 319,653 in the week ending July 25. The weekly death toll fell to 6,755 from a peak of 7,677 in the last week of July.

Trump touts convalescent plasma as treatment

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday touted the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19 and suggested a reported decision by regulators to put on hold an emergency authorization for its use could be politically motivated. “I’ve heard fantastic things about convalescent plasma,” Trump told a briefing.

An emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the use of blood plasma as a coronavirus treatment has been put on hold over concerns the data backing it was too weak, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. The FDA did not respond to a request for comment.

People who survive an infectious disease such as COVID-19 are left with blood plasma containing antibodies the body’s immune system created to fight off a virus. This can be transfused into newly infected patients to try to aid recovery.

China backs Wuhan park after pool party

Chinese state newspapers threw their support behind an amusement park in the central city of Wuhan on Thursday after pictures of a densely packed pool party at the park went viral overseas amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Videos and photos of an electronic music festival at the Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park on July 11 raised eyebrows overseas, but reflected life returning to normal in the city where the virus causing COVID-19 was first detected, the official English-language China Daily newspaper said in a front-page story.

Another story in the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, cited Wuhan residents as saying the pool party reflected the city’s success in its virus-control efforts.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes and Karishma Singh; Editing by Mark Potter)

U.S. health chief, visiting Taiwan, attacks China’s pandemic response

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar attacked China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and said that if such an outbreak had emerged in Taiwan or the United States it could have been “snuffed out easily”.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized Beijing for trying to cover up the virus outbreak, first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and prevaricating on information sharing. China angrily denies the accusations.

“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day,” Azar said in Taipei, capital of self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own.

As the virus emerged, China did not live up to its “binding” international obligations in a betrayal of the cooperative spirit needed for global health, he added, wearing a face mask as he has done for all his public events in Taiwan.

“I believe it is no exaggeration to say that if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily: rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public,” Azar said.

“Instead, Beijing appears to have resisted information sharing, muzzling doctors who spoke out and hobbling the world’s ability to respond.”

The United States has the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the world and President Donald Trump has come under scathing attack from critics at home for not taking what he calls the “China virus” seriously enough.

Taiwan has been praised by health experts for its early and effective steps to control the outbreak, with only 480 infections, including seven deaths.

Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades, a trip condemned by China.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has vowed to bring it under its rule, by force if necessary.

Chinese fighter jets on Monday briefly crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait, and were tracked by Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles, part of what Taipei sees as a pattern of harassment by Beijing.

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing but is still Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority as relations with China sour over issues including human rights, the pandemic, Hong Kong and trade.

Azar said the world should recognize Taiwan’s health accomplishments and not try to push it out, pointing to Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organization due to Chinese objections.

“This behavior is in keeping with Beijing’s approach to WHO and other international organisations. The influence of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) far outweighs its investment in this public health institution – and it uses influence not to advance public health objectives, but its own narrow political interests.”

Both China and the WHO say Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs during the pandemic, which Taiwan disputes.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)

Global coronavirus cases hit 20 million: Reuters tally

By Gayle Issa

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus cases pushed past 20 million on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, with the United States, Brazil and India accounting for more than half of all known infections.

The respiratory disease has infected at least four times the average number of people struck down with severe influenza illnesses annually, according to the World Health Organization.

The death toll from COVID-19, meanwhile, at more than 728,000 has outpaced the upper range of annual deaths from the flu.

The Reuters tally, which is based on government reports, shows the disease is accelerating. It took almost six months to reach 10 million cases after the first infection was reported in Wuhan, China, in early January. It took just 43 days to double that tally to 20 million.

Experts believe the official data likely under counts both infections and deaths, particularly in countries with limited testing capacity.

The United States is responsible for around 5 million cases, Brazil 3 million and India 2 million. Russia and South Africa round out the top ten.

The pandemic is accelerating fastest in Latin America which accounts for almost 28% of the world’s cases and more than 30% of deaths, according to the Reuters tally.

With the first wave of the virus yet to peak in some countries and a resurgence of cases in others, governments are still divided in their responses. Some countries are reintroducing strict public health measures, while others continue to relax restrictions.

Health experts expect dilemmas about how to proceed with school, work and social life to last – and restrictions to fluctuate – until a vaccine is available.

The vaccine race has more than 150 candidates being developed and tested around the world with 25 in human clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States, children began returning to their classrooms last week, even as controversy over school safety swirled.

Britain has added both Spain and Belgium to a list of countries from which returning travelers must quarantine at home for 14 days because of fresh upticks in some European locations.

In Asia, China continues to squash surges using strict, local lockdowns, bringing its daily numbers down into the low double digits on the mainland.

Australia has introduced a strict lockdown and night curfew in the city of Melbourne, aiming to stifle an outbreak there. Neighboring New Zealand, where life has largely returned to normal, on the weekend recorded 100 days with no new cases of local transmission.

(Reporting by Gayle Issa; editing by Jane Wardell)

U.S. orders China to shut Houston consulate as spying accusations mount

By Cate Cadell and David Brunnstrom

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States gave China 72 hours to close its consulate in Houston amid accusations of spying, marking a dramatic deterioration in relations between the world’s two biggest economies.

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday the Chinese mission in Houston was being closed “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”

China’s foreign ministry said Washington had abruptly issued the demand on Tuesday and called it an “unprecedented escalation.” The ministry threatened unspecified retaliation.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington had received “bomb and death threats” because of “smears & hatred” fanned by the U.S. government, spokeswoman Hua Chunying wrote in a tweet.

“The U.S. should revoke its erroneous decision,” she said. “China will surely react with firm countermeasures.”

Communist Party rulers in Beijing were considering shutting the U.S. consulate in the central city of Wuhan in retaliation, a source with knowledge of the matter said.

U.S.-based China experts said Beijing could also opt to target more important consulates in Hong Kong, Shanghai or Guangzhou, something that could hurt American businesses.

The Houston move comes in the run-up to the November U.S. presidential election, in which President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, have both tried to look tough towards China.

Speaking on a visit to Denmark, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated accusations about Chinese theft of U.S. and European intellectual property, which he said were costing “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

While offering no specifics about the Houston consulate, Pompeo referred to a U.S. Justice Department indictment on Tuesday of two Chinese nationals over what it called a decade-long cyber espionage campaign that targeted defense contractors, COVID-19 researchers and hundreds of other victims worldwide.

Pompeo also referred to recent speeches by the head of the FBI and others that highlighted Chinese espionage activities.

“President Trump has said: ‘Enough. We are not going to allow this to continue to happen,'” he told reporters. “That’s the actions that you’re seeing taken by President Trump, we’ll continue to engage in this.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the Houston consulate on Twitter as the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States.”

Trump was due to hold a news conference at 5.30 p.m. (2130 GMT), the White House said.

The New York Times quoted the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, David Stilwell, as saying that the Houston consulate had been at the “epicenter” of the Chinese army’s efforts to advance its warfare advantages by sending students to U.S. universities.

“We took a practical step to prevent them from doing that,” Stilwell told the Times.

Stephen Biegun, the State Department’s number two diplomat, told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee the decision was made in response to “longstanding areas of concern.”

He said these included intellectual property theft and commercial espionage, as well as unequal treatment of U.S. diplomats, exporters, investors and media in China and abuse by China’s security services of the welcoming U.S. posture toward Chinese students and researchers.

A Chinese diplomat, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, denied the spying allegations and said the Houston mission acted like other Chinese consulates in the United States – issuing visas, and promoting visits and businesses.

‘RACE TO THE BOTTOM’

U.S.-China ties have worsened sharply this year over issues ranging from the coronavirus and telecoms-gear maker Huawei to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and clampdown on Hong Kong.

Jonathan Pollack, an East Asia expert with the Brookings Institution, said he could not think of anything “remotely equivalent” to the move against the Houston consulate since the U.S. and China opened full diplomatic relations in 1979.

“The Trump Administration appears to view this latest action as political ammunition in the presidential campaign… It’s part of the administration’s race to the bottom against China,” he said.

Overnight in Houston, firefighters went to the consulate after smoke was seen. Two U.S. government officials said they had information that documents were being burned there.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the consulate was operating normally.

But its closure within a short period of time by Washington was “an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China,” Wang said.

A source with direct knowledge of the matter said China was considering closing the U.S. consulate in Wuhan, where the State Department withdrew staff and their families early this year due to the coronavirus outbreak that first emerged in the city.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it would shut the consulate.

Wang said the U.S. government had been harassing Chinese diplomats and consular staff for some time and intimidating Chinese students. He said the United States had interfered with China’s diplomatic missions, including intercepting diplomatic pouches. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the Chinese accusations.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and David Brunnstrom in Washington; additional reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard in Copenhagen, Patricia Zengerle, Daphne Psaledakis, Mark Hosenball, Steve Holland and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Michelle Nichols and Echo Wang in New York and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Writing by David Brunnstrom and Nick Macfie; Editing by Peter Graff and Rosalba O’Brien)

Pompeo expects ‘completely whitewashed’ WHO China investigation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he expected a World Health Organization (WHO) investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus in China to be “completely whitewashed.”

Nearly 580,000 people globally have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 13 million have been infected following an outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, last year.

The Geneva-based WHO said it was sending an team to China in early July to investigate how the outbreak started.

“This is a regime that failed to disclose the information they had about a virus that has now killed over 100,000 Americans … and now it is allowing the World Health Organization to go in to conduct what I am confident will be a completely, completely whitewashed investigation,” Pompeo told reporters.

The United States is the WHO’s most prominent critic, and has said it is leaving the U.N. agency.

President Donald Trump, who has been harshly criticized for his response to the outbreak in the United States, which has the world’s highest death toll at more than 136,000 people, has sought to blame China.

“I hope I am wrong. I hope it’s a thorough investigation that gets fully to the bottom, but I have watched the Chinese Communist Party’s behavior with respect to the virus that emanated from Wuhan and they have simply refused,” Pompeo said.

“They have destroyed samples. They have taken journalists and doctors who were prepared to talk about this and not permitted them to do what nations that want to play on a truly global scale and global stage ought to do: be transparent, and open, and communicate and cooperate,” he said.

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Global coronavirus cases rise above 13 million

By Gayle Issa

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus infections passed 13 million on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, marking another milestone in the spread of the disease which has killed more than half a million people in seven months.

The first case was reported in China in early January and it took three months to reach one million cases. It has taken just five days to climb to 13 million cases from 12 million recorded on July 8.

The number of cases is around triple that of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the World Health Organization.

There have been more than 568,500 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far, within the same range as the number of yearly influenza deaths reported worldwide. The first death was reported on Jan. 10 in Wuhan, China, before infections and fatalities surged in Europe and then later in the United States.

Many hard-hit countries are easing lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Other places, such as the Australian city of Melbourne, are implementing a second round of shutdowns.

The Reuters tally, which is based on government reports, shows the disease is accelerating the fastest in Latin America. The Americas account for more than half the world’s infections and half the deaths.

The United States reported a daily global record of 69,070 new infections on July 10. In, 1.86 million people have tested positive, including President Jair Bolsonaro, and more than 72,000 people have died.

India, the country with the third-highest number of infections, has been contending with an average of 23,000 new infections each day since the beginning of July.

In countries with limited testing capacity, case numbers reflect only a proportion of total infections. Experts say official data likely under-represents both infections and deaths.

(Reporting by Gayle Issa; Editing by Frances Kerry, Nick Macfie and Toby Chopra)

WHO advance team on way to China to set up probe into virus origin

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – An advance team from the World Health Organization (WHO) has left for China to organise an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus which sparked the global pandemic, a spokeswoman said on Friday.

The virus is believed to have emerged in a wholesale market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, since then closed, after jumping the species barrier from the animal kingdom to infect humans.

The two WHO experts, specialists in animal health and epidemiology, will work with Chinese scientists to determine the scope and itinerary of the investigation, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said, declining to name them.

“They have gone, they are in the air now, they are the advance party that is to work out the scope,” she told a briefing.

This would involve negotiations on issues including the composition of the fuller team, she added.

“One of the big issues that everybody is interested in, and of course that’s why we’re sending an animal health expert, is to look at whether or not it jumped from species to a human and what species it jumped from,” Harris said.

“We know it’s very, very similar to the virus in the bat, but did it go through an intermediate species? This is a question we all need answered,” she said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have said it may have originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, although they have presented no evidence for this and China strongly denies it. Scientists and U.S. intelligence agencies have said it emerged in nature.

“If there was wrongdoing – and we may never know that for sure – it will be very hard to uncover,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C., told Reuters.

“The wet market was closed immediately. There is no independent record, evaluation or investigation of a potential zoonotic source, so it will be very hard to go back and piece together,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michael Shields in Zurich; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones)

Global coronavirus deaths top half a million

By Jane Wardell and Cate Cadell

SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – The death toll from COVID-19 surpassed half a million people on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally, a grim milestone for the global pandemic that seems to be resurgent in some countries even as other regions are still grappling with the first wave.

The respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus has been particularly dangerous for the elderly, although other adults and children are also among the 501,000 fatalities and 10.1 million reported cases.

While the overall rate of death has flattened in recent weeks, health experts have expressed concerns about record numbers of new cases in countries like the United States, India and Brazil, as well as new outbreaks in parts of Asia.

More than 4,700 people are dying every 24 hours from COVID-19-linked illness, according to Reuters calculations based on an average from June 1 to 27.

That equates to 196 people per hour, or one person every 18 seconds.

About one-quarter of all the deaths so far have been in the United States, the Reuters data shows. The recent surge in cases has been most pronounced in a handful of Southern and Western states that reopened earlier and more aggressively. U.S. officials on Sunday reported around 44,700 new cases and 508 additional deaths.

Case numbers are also growing swiftly in Latin America, on Sunday surpassing those diagnosed in Europe, making the region the second most affected by the pandemic, after North America.

On the other side of the world, Australian officials were considering reimposing social distancing measures in some regions on Monday after reporting the biggest one-day rise in infections in more than two months.

The first recorded death from the new virus was on Jan. 9, a 61-year-old man from the Chinese city of Wuhan who was a regular shopper at a wet market that has been identified as the source of the outbreak.

In just five months, the COVID-19 death toll has overtaken the number of people who die annually from malaria, one of the most deadly infectious diseases.

The death rate averages out to 78,000 per month, compared with 64,000 AIDS-related deaths and 36,000 malaria deaths, according to 2018 figures from the World Health Organization.

CHANGING BURIAL RITES

The high number of deaths has led to changes to traditional and religious burial rites around the world, with morgues and funeral businesses overwhelmed and loved ones often barred from bidding farewell in person.

In Israel, the custom of washing the bodies of Muslim deceased is not permitted, and instead of being shrouded in cloth, they must be wrapped in a plastic body bag. The Jewish tradition of Shiva where people go to the home of mourning relatives for seven days has also been disrupted.

In Italy, Catholics have been buried without funerals or a blessing from a priest. In New York, city crematories were at one point working overtime, burning bodies into the night as officials scouted for temporary interment sites.

In Iraq, former militiamen have dropped their guns to instead dig graves for coronavirus victims at a specially created cemetery. They have learned how to conduct Christian, as well as Muslim, burials.

ELDERLY AT RISK

Public health experts are looking at how demographics affect the death rates in different regions. Some European countries with older populations have reported higher fatality rates, for instance.

An April report by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control looked at more than 300,000 cases in 20 countries and found that about 46% of all fatalities were over the age of 80.

In Indonesia, hundreds of children are believed to have died, a development health officials have attributed to malnutrition, anemia and inadequate child health facilities.

Health experts caution that the official data likely does not tell the full story, with many believing that both cases and deaths have likely been under reported in some countries.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell in Sydney and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Daniel Wallis)

Explainer: Are asymptomatic COVID-19 patients safe or silent carriers?

By Cate Cadell and Roxanne Liu

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said 300 symptomless carriers of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, had not been found to be infectious, in a bid to reassure people as countries ease restrictions. But some experts say asymptomatic infections are common, presenting a huge challenge in the control of the disease.

WHAT IS ASYMPTOMATIC AND PRE-SYMPTOMATIC?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200402-sitrep-73-covid-19.pdf asymptomatic cases as those who don’t show symptoms but have been confirmed infected through a lab test. WHO notes there are few reports of truly asymptomatic cases.

The incubation period, or the time a person takes to show symptoms after getting infected, is the pre-symptomatic phase, the WHO says. Carriers can infect others during this period.

Health experts are not yet sure whether asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases are infectious. Some say data so far suggests those cases are probably equally likely to be able to spread infection.

The WHO agrees that pre-symptomatic carriers are infectious, and adds that there is also a possibility – although little evidence so far – that people who are asymptomatic may also transmit the virus. The WHO had said in early April that there had been no documented asymptomatic transmissions.

WHAT ELSE DOES CHINA SAY?

China has reported around 83,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. It does not include asymptomatic cases in that total official count, but began reporting them separately on a daily basis on March 31.

That has raised concerns about Beijing’s commitment to transparency, and some experts say it could also paint a misleading picture of how the virus spreads.

“If you watch (such asymptomatic cases) really closely, you would see something … that probably fits with a more realistic mild disease than a complete asymptomatic,” Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland said.

“But the term is around now and it’s going to stick. It’s a nice piece of theatre, but I don’t think it’s going to give useful information.”

Asymptomatic cases under medical observation in China dropped to 357 as of Tuesday from 1,541 as of March 30.

Wuhan has tested almost its entire population of 11 million and found no new COVID-19 cases.

Wuhan’s low rate of symptomless carriers is in line with China’s previous reporting, said Zhong Nanshan, the government’s senior medical adviser, adding that the result showed that the country didn’t cover up the epidemic as some U.S. politicians claimed.

HOW ABOUT REST OF ASIA?

Some countries in Asia include asymptomatic carriers in their total confirmed cases.

In Vietnam, which has just over 300 COVID-19 cases, almost 37% were symptomless, according to health ministry data.

Researchers concluded that asymptomatic infection was common and found two asymptomatic patients had infected at least four other people.

South Korea, which had early success in taming the outbreak through aggressive testing, said 20%-30% were asymptomatic. A senior health official said the virus could be widely transmitted during the incubation period, but asymptomatic patients were less likely to transmit it.

Singapore, which has the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia, does not give data on asymptomatic cases but has said an overwhelming majority of positive cases in its crowded migrant workers’ dormitories show mild or no symptoms.

The Philippines said about 13% of its nearly 19,000 cases were asymptomatic. In India, some 28% of 40,184 people who tested positive between Jan. 22 and April 30 were asymptomatic, according to a study.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell and Roxanne Liu in Beijing; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London, John Mair in Sydney, James Pearson in Hanoi, John Geddie in Singapore, Neil Jerome Morales in Manila, Sangmi Cha in Seoul, Rocky Swift in Tokyo and Miyoung Kim in Singapore; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh in Singapore; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Pompeo says ‘significant’ evidence that new coronavirus emerged from Chinese lab

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the new coronavirus emerged from a Chinese laboratory, but did not dispute U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it was not man-made.

“There is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week,” referring to the virus that emerged late last year in China and has killed about 240,000 people around the world, including more than 67,000 in the United States.

Pompeo then briefly contradicted a statement issued last Thursday by the top U.S. spy agency that said the virus did not appear to be man-made or genetically modified. That statement undercut conspiracy theories promoted by anti-China activists and some supporters of President Donald Trump who suggest it was developed in a Chinese government biological weapons laboratory.

“The best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” Pompeo said. When the interviewer pointed out that was not the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies, Pompeo backtracked, saying: “I’ve seen what the intelligence community has said. I have no reasonto believe that they’ve got it wrong.”

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on Pompeo’s comments.

China’s Global Times, run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in an editorial responding to Pompeo’s Sunday interview that he did not have any evidence the virus came from the lab in Wuhan and that he was “bluffing,” calling on the United States to present the evidence.

“The Trump administration continues to engage in unprecedented propaganda warfare while trying to impede global efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” the editorial said.

Thursday’s report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it concurred with “the wide scientific consensus” that the disease was not man-made.

U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reporting and analysis have said for weeks that they do not believe Chinese scientists developed the coronavirus in a government biological weapons lab from which it then escaped.

Rather, they have said they believe it was either introduced through human contact with wildlife at a meat market in the central city of Wuhan, or could have escaped from one of two Wuhan government laboratories believed to be conducting civilian research into possible biological hazards.

Pompeo said on Thursday it was not known whether the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a meat market, or somewhere else. Trump said the same day that he was confident it may have originated in a Chinese virology lab, but he declined to describe the evidence.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)