Sources believe COVID-19 originated in Wuhan lab as part of China's efforts to compete with US

COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan laboratory not as a bioweapon, but as part of China's effort to demonstrate that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than the capabilities of the United States, multiple sources who have been briefed on the details of early actions by China's government and seen relevant materials tell Fox News.

This may be the "costliest government coverup of all time," one of the sources said.

The sources believe the initial transmission of the virus was bat-to-human, and that "patient zero" worked at the laboratory, then went into the population in Wuhan.

WUHAN, Feb. 13, 2020 -- A staff member works in a laboratory in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 13, 2020. As a designated service provider of nucleic acid detection of the novel coronavirus, KingMed Diagnostics laboratory in Wuhan conduct (Cheng Min/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Asked by Fox News' John Roberts about the reporting, President Trump remarked at Wednesday's coronavirus press briefing, "More and more we're hearing the story...we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation."

Documents detail early efforts by doctors at the lab and early efforts at containment. The Wuhan wet market initially identified as a possible point of origin never sold bats, and the sources tell Fox News that blaming the wet market was an effort by China to deflect blame from the laboratory, along with the country's propaganda efforts targeting the U.S. and Italy.

U.S. Embassy officials warned in January 2018 about inadequate safety at the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab and passed on information about scientists conducting risky research on coronavirus from bats, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Responding to the report, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday afternoon: "It should be no surprise to you that we have taken a keen interest in that and we've had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that. I would just say at this point, it's inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural, but we don't know for certain."

Americans were originally helping train the Chinese in a program called PREVENT well before the Chinese started working on this virus. The French government helped the Chinese set up the Wuhan lab.

China "100 percent" suppressed data and changed data, the sources tell Fox News. Samples were destroyed,  contaminated areas scrubbed, some early reports erased, and academic articles stifled.

There were doctors and journalists who were "disappeared" warning of the spread of the virus and its contagious nature and human to human transmission.  China moved quickly to shut down travel domestically from Wuhan to the rest of China, but did not stop international flights from Wuhan.

Additionally, the sources tell Fox News the World Health Organization (WHO) was complicit from the beginning in helping China cover its tracks.     

Trump announced at the White House coronavirus news briefing in the Rose Garden on Tuesday that the United States will immediately halt all funding for the WHO, saying it had put "political correctness over lifesaving measures." The United States is the WHO's largest single donor, and the State Department had previously planned to provide the agency $893 million in the current two-year funding period.

WUHAN, Feb. 13, 2020 -- Staff members work in a laboratory in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 13, 2020. As a designated service provider of nucleic acid detection of the novel coronavirus, KingMed Diagnostics laboratory in Wuhan conducts (Xiong Qi/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Senior administrations separately tell Fox News the rollout of the president’s “blueprint for re-opening the U.S. economy” will happen Thursday afternoon, first for governors and then briefed to the press.

Meanwhile, Trump's own handling of the crisis has come into focus. On January 24,  for example, Trump tweeted in praise of China’s “transparency" on coronavirus.

Though they were not speaking for the president, the sources ventured an explanation, saying it was diplomatic talk to make the Chinese "feel good". while the investigation was ongoing, with trade and other talks happening simultaneously.

In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicenter of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations.

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President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence.

“This is tremendous,” said Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.”