Donald Trump speaks to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC ( AFP / MANDEL NGAN)

Chinese official shares TIME magazine cover in misleading tweet about 'pandemic origins'

Copyright AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

As tensions rose between the United States and China over the origins of the pandemic, Beijing's foreign ministry spokeswoman tweeted a TIME magazine cover story she claimed illustrated that Washington was "the origin of the epidemic". The claim is misleading: the magazine story actually focused on a Covid-19 cluster at the White House in October 2020. The first major outbreak of Covid-19 was recorded in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2019.

China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the misleading claim in a tweet posted on July 17.

It reads: "Look back at what has been through since the outbreak: #China has done its best to bring the #epidemic under control domestically and has been sparing no efforts to help other countries globally with hundreds of millions of medical supplies, masks & world’s 1/6 #vaccines doses.

"In contrast, #US has seen 600,000+ deaths & exported countless cases of infection & political virus. As the cover story of TIME tells, the US is the biggest source of the virus and the origin of the epidemic."

In the tweet, she shared a photo of the cover of TIME magazine from October 19, 2020.

It shows an illustration of plumes of viruses spewing out from White House chimneys.

A screenshot of the misleading tweet from Hua Chunying taken on July 26, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced plans to audit Chinese labs as part of further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, sparking anger from Chinese officials. AFP reported on the developments here.

The TIME magazine cover was shared alongside a similar claim on Twitter here and here, and on Weibo here.

The claim is misleading.

The first significant outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 was recorded in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2019.

China confirmed the first death from the virus in Wuhan on January 11, 2020, as AFP reported here.

In January 2021, the WHO sent a team of independent, international experts to Wuhan to help Chinese counterparts investigate the pandemic's origins.

In July 2021, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for more studies of animal markets in and around Wuhan as part of the second stage of an international probe into the origins of the pandemic.

Magazine cover

A search of Time magazine covers listed on the publication's website reveals that the cover is from the October 19, 2020 issue.

The cover was published alongside a story headlined: "Donald Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis Is Forcing Him to Face His Personal—and Political—Vulnerability".

A screenshot of the Time Magazine October 8 issue cover story taken on July 26, 2021 ( AFP)

The article criticised then-US president Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic.

It questioned his decision to host a celebration at the White House for judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court in September 2020.

Trump "ridiculed Joe Biden’s mask wearing" and "grimaced when he saw aides wearing masks", the article states.

Trump tested positive for Covid-19 days after the White House reception. His wife Melania Trump and a close aide Hope Hicks also tested positive.

There is no mention of the pandemic's origins in TIME's story.