As China faces growing condemnation from world leaders, the war of words around the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has intensified.
While Western governments have backed a renewed investigation into the emergence of the virus, a Chinese epidemiologist has called for an investigation to focus on the US and France.
While overwhelmingly the evidence points to China and its port city of Wuhan as ground zero of the pandemic, a recent national study showed the virus was present in the US in December 2019, while a study by the French National Institute of Health pointed to the virus being in the country as early as November 2019.
"It is obvious that the outbreak had multiple origins," Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention told the Global Times tabloid, which effectively operates as a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.
The US and Europe initially reported their first cases in January.
Chinese epidemiologist calls for scrutiny of US bio-weapons
As China looks to shift blame, Mr Guang called for the focus of the investigation to look outside China while also alluding to the bio-weapons capability of the United States.
"All bio-weapons related subjects that the country has should be subject to scrutiny," he said.
"Maybe the virus was circulating in the US earlier than in China. I am not suggesting that the US may be the country where the virus comes from," he said in a separate article in the outlet on Thursday.
It echoes a renewed interest from the US in pursuing the lab leak theory as China withholds information and clings to its denials.
A US intelligence report revealed by the Wall Street Journal showed that researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care.
The lab workers had "symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”
China's parochial English-language media has ramped up its propaganda push in the face of more coordinated criticism from democratic nations.
On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson declared that scientists in Wuhan's virology lab should be awarded the Nobel Prize, rather than being blamed for the global outbreak, the Global Times reported.
As the diplomatic posturing shows no signs of abating, the world may never know exactly where the virus came from. In February, Professor John Watson, a leading scientist who travelled to China as part of a World Health Organisation investigation said he couldn't be sure the virus leapt to humans inside of China.
"There are all sorts of reasons ... that suggest that China is a very, very possible source for the outbreak," he told the BBC on Sunday.
"But by no means necessarily the place where the leap from animals to humans took place.
"And I think we need to ensure that we are looking beyond the borders of China, as well as within China."
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