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Richard Horton made the comments in an interview with China’s state broadcaster CCTV. Photo: Weibo

It’s unfair to blame China for coronavirus pandemic, Lancet editor tells state media

  • Richard Horton tells state broadcaster CCTV the rest of the world should try to work with China rather than pointing the finger
  • British medical journal’s editor-in-chief says ‘China is not responsible’ for the Covid-19 outbreak first identified in Wuhan

The editor-in-chief of The Lancet has said it is “not helpful” and “unfair” to blame China for being the source of the Covid-19 pandemic in an interview with Chinese state media.

Richard Horton said the international community should instead work with the Chinese authorities in dealing with the outbreak.

“China didn’t want this epidemic,” Horton said during Friday’s interview with state broadcaster CCTV when asked about the mounting pressure China has been under to take responsibility for being the origin of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. “China isn’t responsible for this pandemic. It’s happened.”

China has faced criticism over a lack of transparency and its initial slow response to the outbreak, first reported in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which has now infected over 3.2 million people and killed over 230,000.

Covid-19 mothers and babies in Wuhan study off to better start than those during Sars outbreak, doctors report in Lancet

Lawmakers in Germany and Australia have called for a probe into how the virus started, while Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for more transparency from China about the origin of the virus.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he has a high degree of confidence that the coronavirus outbreak originated from a laboratory in China.

His comments came after the US top spy agency said that the intelligence community did not believe the virus had been man-made or genetically modified, but said it will continue to examine whether the outbreak “began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan”.

The editor of the British-based medical journal offered a strong defence of China during the CCTV interview, saying that while it is important to understand the origin of the virus, it was “not helpful” and “not scientific” to seek for a patient zero and such efforts could be “highly stigmatising and discriminatory”.

“It’s very important to understand the origin of this virus and to study those origins scientifically and not to allow such conspiracy theories to contaminate our thinking,” he said, adding that these would only “risk destabilising our response to this virus”.

Both Chinese and American officials have prompted conspiracy theories to accuse each other as being the origin of the virus.

US intelligence says coronavirus was not man-made but theory it leaked from Wuhan lab needs more investigation

Trump had previously called the pathogen a “Chinese virus”, while a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the virus may have been brought by US soldiers into China.

“What is very disappointing is seeing the politicians who are giving credibility to conspiracy theories … and damaging the potential and prospect of global collaboration by being so openly critical of other countries such as China and organisations such as the World Health Organisation. I don’t think that’s a helpful response,” Horton said, adding that countries should work “intensively together” to address the challenge of the pandemic.

Horton has been vocal in criticising Western governments’ slow response to the pandemic, and in the interview said that many leaders had ignored repeated warnings in a series of papers published in The Lancet about the danger and risk posed by the virus.

“Most Western countries and the United States of America wasted the whole of February and early March before they acted,” he said.

Last month Horton also criticised Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organisation, calling it “a crime against humanity” on Twitter.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Unfair and not helpful to blame China for Covid-19,Lancet’s top editor says