Coronavirus death toll tops 900 as China's envoy to US dismisses ‘absolutely crazy’ bioweapon rumors

Medical workers in protective suits attend to novel coronavirus patients at the ICU in Wuhan, Hubei province, China China Daily via Reuters Medical workers in protective suits attend to novel coronavirus patients at the ICU in Wuhan, Hubei province, China
As the death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak soared to over 900 people worldwide, the Chinese ambassador to the US has cautioned against fueling panic and spreading dangerous rumors about the virus’ unknown origins.

With China’s Hubei Province, the epicenter of the lethal viral outbreak, reporting 91 deaths and some 2,618 additional cases of infection throughout Sunday – the global toll now stands at over 40,000 cases with at least 904 fatalities.

Asked about the situation and speculation surrounding the 2019-nCoV origins and spread earlier in the day, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai told CBS it would be “absolutely crazy” to believe unsubstantiated rumors online while the entire global scientific community that is working day and night on the issue has yet to come a conclusion.

For one thing, this will create panic. Another thing that it will fend up racial discrimination, xenophobia, all these things, that will really harm our joint efforts to combat the virus.

Until thorough research is conducted, there are and always will be “all kinds of speculation and rumors” about the virus potentially being a lab-created bioweapon, the diplomat noted.

There are people who are saying that these viruses are coming from… some military lab, not of China, maybe in the United States… How can we believe all these crazy things?

The outbreak is believed to have originated in a market in Wuhan, China, which sold wild animals. According to a UK medical journal, the Lancet, the disease is very similar to two coronaviruses found in bats.

Meanwhile, recent Chinese research pointed the finger at pangolins as a potential source. Researchers tested samples from more than 1,000 wild animals and found that the genetic code of coronavirus strain samples taken from pangolins was 99 percent identical to samples taken from infected humans.

However, most studies on the virus that was first discovered last December so far have been far from conclusive, as they are yet to be scrutinized and peer-reviewed in any meaningful way.

One such recent pre-print study was widely misinterpreted and fueled rumors that the virus might have been genetically engineered to put pieces of HIV in it. The authors have rushed to withdraw their research, saying it was never their intention to “feed into the conspiracy theories and no such claims are made here.”

The strict isolation and quarantine measures in China and border screenings elsewhere have been “very effective,” China's ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, told the BBC on Sunday. He emphasized that with proper precautions and response efforts this new “enemy of mankind” is "controllable, preventable, and curable," even though he admitted it was “very difficult to predict” when the outbreak might reach its peak.