In a speech to the One Planet Summit, the prime minister said the virus emerged due to an “imbalance in man’s relationship with the natural world”.
He asserted it “originates from bats or pangolins”, before rounding on the “demented” tradition in China of using pangolin scales in medicine, a practice unproven to have any health benefits.
The exact origin of the virus has not actually been proven.
Here is what Johnson said at the summit on Monday:
“One final thought, don’t forget that the coronavirus pandemic was the product of an imbalance in man’s relationship with the natural world. Like the original plague which struck the Greeks… it is a zoonotic disease. It originates from bats or pangolins, from the demented belief that if you grind up the scales of a pangolin you will somehow become more potent or whatever it is people believe. It originates from this collision between mankind and the natural world and we’ve got to stop it.”
China dismissed the PM’s remarks on Tuesday, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian quoted in Bloomberg as saying “there is no room, no place, for people making speculations”.
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Scientists are still probing its exact origin, though it is thought to have come from a market selling animals in the city.
Research published in July last year suggested the virus has been circulating in bats for decades.
Watch: 2020: The year of the pandemic
World Health Organization scientists are set to visit China on Thursday as part of an investigation into the cause of the pandemic. It’s not known, however, if they will be visiting Wuhan.
China had previously been reluctant to sanction the visit, having controlled all domestic research into the origin of the pandemic.
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