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An attempt by G-7 member countries to agree on a joint statement fell apart after the State Department insisted on including the phrase “Wuhan virus” to refer to the global coronavirus outbreak.
The U.S. was responsible for drafting the joint statement and included the term in the document, which was circulated among G7 foreign ministers.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has argued that it is important to note that the coronavirus pandemic originated in China and that Beijing was responsible for warning the rest of the world about the deadly respiratory illness.
“With respect to the statement, I always think about these meetings the right answer is to make sure we have the same message coming out of it,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “There was a lot of discussion today amongst the G7 about the intentional disinformation campaign that China has been and continues to be engaged in.”
However, diplomats from the other G-7 members, which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, disagreed with the use of the term.
“What the State Department has suggested is a red line,” one European diplomat said, according to CNN. “You cannot agree with this branding of this virus and trying to communicate this.”
President Trump has referred to the virus as the “Chinese virus,” saying the term refers to the fact that it came from China, and criticized the suggestion by a foreign ministry spokesman that the U.S. military may have brought the virus to the country. Beijing, which initially suppressed evidence that the virus could be transmitted between people, has disputed that the outbreak began in China.
On Tuesday, however, the president said he intended to back off using the term.
“Look, everyone knows it came out of China, but I decided we shouldn’t make any more of a big deal out of it. I think I made a big deal. I think people understand it,” Trump told Fox News. “But that all began when they said our soldiers started it. Our soldiers had nothing to do with it.”
Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization, which has officially named the pathogen Covid-19 or coronavirus, remarked that “having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing.”
As of Thursday morning, the coronavirus had infected more than 68,500 people in the U.S., and at least 990 people have died. Globally, the virus has infected more than 465,100 people in at least 171 countries and killed at least 20,977 people.