Washington DC: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Sunday said “enormous evidence” showed the new coronavirus originated in a lab in China, further fueling tensions with Beijing over its handling of the outbreak.

Pompeo’s comments came as Europe and parts of the United States prepared to cautiously lift virus lockdowns as signs emerge that the deadly pandemic is ebbing and governments look to restart their battered economies.

More than 2,45,000 people have been killed and 3.4 million infected worldwide by the virus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the global economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression.

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US President Donald Trump, increasingly critical of China’s management of the first outbreak in the city of Wuhan in December, claims to have proof it started in a Chinese laboratory.

Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans, after emerging in China, possibly from a market in Wuhan selling exotic animals for meat.

‘History of infecting the world’

China denies the claims, and the US director of national untelligence office has said analysts are still examining the exact origin of the outbreak.

Pompeo, a former CIA chief, told the ABC he agreed that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made.

But Pompeo went further than Trump, citing “enormous” evidence that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab. He did not however present evidence to back up his claim.

“I think the whole world can see now, remember, China has a history of infecting the world and running substandard laboratories,” he said.

Pompeo said early Chinese efforts to downplay the coronavirus amounted to “a classic Communist disinformation effort. That created enormous risk.”

Pressure from demonstrators

US news reports say Trump has tasked US spies to find out more about the origins of the virus, as he makes China’s handling of the pandemic a centrepiece of his campaign for the November Presidential election.

The United States has the most coronavirus deaths in the world at more than 67,600 with 1,450 recorded over the 24-hours late Sunday.

With agency inputs