United States President Donald Trump on Thursday threatened China with new tariffs as he sharpened his rhetoric against Beijing over the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that he had seen evidence linking a Wuhan lab to the infection, AFP reported.

This came a day after the president said he believed China’s handling of the pandemic is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose the upcoming elections in November.

The Republican president, often accused of not acting early enough to prepare the United States for the spread of Covid-19, also said his hard-fought trade deal with China was now of secondary importance to the contagion, according to Reuters. “We signed a trade deal where they’re supposed to buy, and they’ve been buying a lot, actually,” the president told reporters. “But that now becomes secondary to what took place with the virus. The virus situation is just not acceptable.”

When asked if he had seen anything giving him a “high degree of confidence” that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the outbreak, Trump said “yes, yes I have”. However, he declined to give more details. “I can’t tell you that,” he added. “I’m not allowed to tell you that.”

The Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed the allegations, and other US officials have downplayed their likelihood. Most experts believe the virus originated in a market selling wildlife in Wuhan and somehow passed on from animals to people.

For weeks, Trump has blamed China for the crisis that has killed at least 62,906 people in the US, shed more than 30 million jobs in six weeks and jeopardised his hopes for another four-year term.

When asked about reports that United States could stop payment of its debt obligations as a way to punish Beijing, Trump said he could “do it differently” and act in “probably a little bit more of a forthright manner”.

“I can do the same thing, but even for more money, just by putting on tariffs,” he added. “So, I don’t have to do that.”

Meanwhile, the US intelligence community said it had concluded that the coronavirus was not man-made or engineered. “The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to US policymakers and those responding to the Covid-19 virus, which originated in China,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement. “The intelligence community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”