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Husted defends claim that COVID-19 came from a Chinese lab, calling it 'Wuhan virus'

Posted at 6:22 PM, Apr 01, 2021

Ohio’s lieutenant governor believes the COVID-19 pandemic emerged from a conspiracy by the Chinese government, he said Thursday, and he’s not sorry about referring to the novel coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” — a phrase Asian communities have derided as racist and inflammatory — in a March 26 tweet.

“My words were directed at what I believe is a probable cover-up by the Chinese government for a virus that has killed 2.7 million people around the globe,” he said during a news conference about the COVID-19 pandemic in Ohio. “It has disrupted the lives of nearly every person on the planet. … What happened there is why we’re today, why people are doing this all over the world, and I believe that there needs to be an independent investigation into it.”

In the contested tweet, Husted shared an article about former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, who told CNN he believed the virus had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology rather than originating as a spontaneous mutation in nature.

“It's a stunning assertion, offered with little evidence, by the man who led the U.S. government's public health agency from the time the virus was first detected in Wuhan through the entirety of the Trump administration's response,” Axios writer Zachary Basu noted.

Husted shared Basu’s article and wrote: “So it appears it was the Wuhan Virus after all?”

The phrases “Wuhan virus” and “China virus” are popular among some of Husted’s fellow Republicans, including ex-president Donald Trump, often as a way of assigning blame for the pandemic or advancing the unproven theory that COVID-19 was intentionally created by lab workers in Wuhan.

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But Asian Americans have vigorously objected to these nicknames, arguing that associating the virus with China and Chinese people creates an elevated risk of racial hostility and persecution against Asian people worldwide.

The World Health Organization has advised against giving illnesses place-names since 2015 for the same reason.

American objectors include Thailand-born Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who mentioned the “China virus” nickname in her own tweet about recent acts of anti-Asian violence in the United States. The most prominent of these incidents was the fatal shooting of six Asian women in Atlanta on March 16, but recent attacks and xenophobia against Asian people in the United States have been recorded by bloggers, covered by the New York Times and protested against by activists in Los Angeles.

Husted’s original “Wuhan virus” tweet has 268 likes and over 1,300 replies — a ratio that, on Twitter, usually indicates an overwhelmingly negative response.

“Asian-Americans are getting killed because of rhetoric like this,” wrote epidemiologist and Kent State professor Tara C. Smith. “You represent my state. Do better.”

“Wow,” wrote another commenter. “I look forward to seeing you squirm about this at the next @GovMikeDeWine presser.”

Speaking Thursday, Husted said he intended the tweet only as a criticism of the Chinese government and blamed Chinese leaders, not American rhetoric, for any danger to Chinese Americans that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s no justification, ever, for hate and acts of violence against anybody, any ethnicity, any religion for any reason,” he said. “Asian-Americans in this country have been contributors to the greatness of this nation in the past, in our military, in every walk of life, and they’ve contributed to making this a great place to live. I’m specifically empathetic to the issue surrounding Chinese Americans because of what the Chinese government has done that has affected Ohioans and Americans.”