AFP/File / Hector RETAMAL

A laboratory in the Chinese city at ground zero of the global coronavirus outbreak has rejected US theories that it spawned the pandemic, as President Donald Trump warned Beijing of consequences if it was “knowingly responsible”.

The denial came as world governments were debating how and when to ease lockdowns that have kept more than half of humanity — 4.5 billion people — confined to their homes and crippled the global economy.

Many of the world’s 260 million Orthodox Christians were forced to mark Easter at home on Sunday, with church leaders telling worshippers to stay indoors and conducting services online or on television.

But in Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko, who has cast doubt on the gravity of the pandemic and allowed events such as football matches to continue, defiantly visited a church without a face mask.

Hoping to spread cheer to those under lockdown, the world’s top musicians — from the Rolling Stones to Taylor Swift, Stevie Wonder and teen superstar Billie Eilish — joined forces for a virtual mega-concert on Saturday.

The six-hour online event aimed to cultivate a sense of community during a pandemic that has killed at least 160,000 people worldwide, with more than 2.3 million confirmed infections.

– ‘Should be consequences’ –

“Was it a mistake that got out of control or was it done deliberately?” Trump said Saturday, questioning the origins of the highly contagious disease which first emerged in the city of Wuhan in December.

Global spread of coronavirus

“If they were knowingly responsible, yeah, then there should be consequences,” he said. The virus was probably first transmitted to humans at a Wuhan market where exotic animals were slaughtered, according to Chinese scientists.

But conspiracy theories that the virus came from a maximum-security virology lab have been brought into the mainstream by US government officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said an investigation was under way into how the virus “got out into the world”.

“There’s no way this virus came from us,” Yuan Zhiming, the head of the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is equipped to handle dangerous viruses, said in an interview with state media. “I know it’s impossible.”

Australia has called for an independent investigation into the global response to the pandemic, including the World Health Organization’s handling of the crisis. Its foreign minister said the country would “insist” on a review that would probe, in part, China’s response to the outbreak.