Republican Sen. Tom Cotton said Chinese officials may have misled the public on the origins of the coronavirus that has killed at least 362 people and infected more than 17,400 others, saying it may have originated in a “superlaboratory”, reports Business Insider.
At a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing Thursday, Cotton described coronavirus as the “biggest and most important story in the world”, calling it “worse than Chernobyl.”
Sen. Cotton suggested Beijing had been less than candid about the number of infections and was “lying about it from the very beginning” to suppress the seriousness of the epidemic. Chinese officials have been accused of falsifying the number of cases and silencing reports weeks before it was formally acknowledged by the government.
“They also claimed, for almost two months until earlier this week, that it originated in a seafood market in Wuhan,” Cotton said, referring to a study published by the Lancet. “That is not the case.”
“Of the original 40 cases, 14 of them had no contact with the seafood market, including patient zero,” Cotton said. “I would note that Wuhan also has China’s only bio-safety level four ‘superlaboratory’ that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”
Cotton was referencing the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China’s first Biosafety Level 4 lab that investigates “the most dangerous pathogens,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cotton qualified his remarks by saying “we still don’t know where” the virus originated.
Cotton was mentioned as a possible candidate for secretary of defense in the Trump administration. However, retired general James Mattis was chosen instead. Cotton frequently met with Trump’s staff during the transition period, and according to Steve Bannon, Cotton suggested John F. Kelly for the role of Secretary of Homeland Security.
In November 2017, the New York Times reported that Cotton was a potential choice to succeed CIA director Mike Pompeo, who could be elevated to US secretary of state after President Trump ‘soured’ with the then incumbent, Rex Tillerson.
In December 2018, Politico reported that Cotton was a potential choice to replace Jim Mattis as US secretary of defense after Mattis announced his resignation for January 1, 2019. Ultimately, Mark Esper was chosen to succeed Mattis on June 18, 2019.