‘I’m sorry if people felt offended’: Canadian premier draws outrage over ‘bat soup out of Wuhan’ comment

Jason Kenney Bat Soup

A Canadian premier has been accused of racism after referencing “bat soup” while talking about COVID-19 late last month.

Jason Kenney, who has served as Alberta’s premier since 2019, made the controversial remark during a year-end interview with Postmedia, in which he addressed the uncertainty of coronavirus variants.

“Who knows what the next variant that gets thrown up is? I don’t know,” Kenney told the outlet. “And what’s the next bat soup thing out of Wuhan? I don’t know. I’ve learned from bitter experience not to make predictions about this.”

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Kenney’s comments drew immediate criticism on social media, with many calling him “racist;” however, the premier initially stood by his remarks. Harrison Fleming, his acting press secretary, told CTV News Calgary that it was ridiculous to call such “widely reported scientific theories” racist.

“The Premier’s comment obviously referred to the widely reported theory that the first human infection of COVID-19 resulted from transmission between an infected bat and a human in the Wuhan region of China. The World Health Organization has concluded that direct spread from bats to humans in Wuhan is a ‘likely’ scenario to explain the beginning of human transmission,” Fleming said. “The Premier’s comment underscored that there is no way to predict what the catalyst of a future pandemic will be, or how future variants might evolve.”

A familiar rhetoric

While the world’s first case of COVID-19 was documented in Wuhan, the World Health Organization has advised against attaching locations or ethnicity to the disease. The name “COVID-19,” according to the agency, was “deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization.”

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who referred to COVID-19 as “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “Kung Flu,” has similarly been accused of racism, claiming that he was only stating where the disease came from. Amid a surge in anti-Asian attacks across the country, however, he called for the protection of Asian Americans, saying COVID-19 was “not their fault in any way, shape or form.”

A 2021 study by an international group of researchers found that the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 – the pathogen responsible for COVID-19 – from bats to humans was relatively easy. Still, the long-debunked claim that COVID-19 was transmitted via bat soup remains unsubstantiated.

After a 90-day investigation authorized by President Joe Biden, the U.S. intelligence community failed to determine COVID-19’s true origin. Instead, they found that the disease “was not developed as a biological weapon” and that Chinese officials “did not have foreknowledge of the virus” before the initial outbreak.

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Apology released

By New Year’s Day, members of Calgary’s Chinese community gathered outside McDougall Centre to condemn Kenney’s remarks. Attendees held signs that said “Racism is a disgrace to Alberta” and “Zero tolerance for anti-Asian hate.”

“We gather here to voice concern on Jason Kenney’s irresponsible and toxic comments,” said Jiannong Wu, according to the Calgary Herald. “[This type of language] has provoked a significant increase in hate crimes against Asian people in general and Chinese in particular.”

Shortly after defending his comments, Kenney reportedly released an apology in an interview with Life Calgary, a local Chinese news outlet.

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“I do want to say that by the way, if anybody did take offence, that I apologize to them, if they took offence, certainly none was intended,” Kenney’s press secretary, Justin Brattinga, quoted him as saying, according to the Edmonton Journal.

“I’m sorry if people felt offended by what I said, that was not my intention. And I certainly want to thank the Chinese Canadian community in Alberta for the tremendous care that it has shown in being responsible during COVID.”

Featured Image via Your Alberta

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