United States orders Covid origin probe as lab leak theory debated

The US President Just Told Spy Agencies to Explore the COVID-19 'Lab Leak' Theory

Doctors in biohazard suits obscured by a curtain. doble-d iStock

Citing a US intelligence report, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that a trio from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with a seasonal illness in November 2019, a month before Beijing disclosed the existence of a mysterious pneumonia outbreak.

In a statement, Biden said he had "asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required including specific questions on China". "I have also asked that this effort include work by our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community's efforts". "We support a comprehensive study of all early cases of COVID-19 found worldwide and a thorough investigation into some secretive bases and biological laboratories all over the world".

The U.S. Intelligence Community has "coalesced around two likely scenarios" but "has not reached a definitive conclusion" on this question, said the statement. "The majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other", Biden said, adding that each theory had been assessed with "low to moderate confidence".

"After the outbreak of the pandemic, China took the lead to support the World Health Organization in conducting researches on origin-tracing on a global scale", said Zhao, adding that the World Health Organization team in China jointly made field trips, analyzed a large number of statistics, issued an authoritative study report, and reached many significant conclusions, which "actively promoted the origin-tracing globally".

"The Chinese Communist Party will likely perceive Biden's call for greater clarity on the origins of COVID-19 as part of his administration's overall strategy to win the competition with China", said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the USA, a research group.

Prof Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said: "The only way to stop future pandemics driven by viruses that spill over into humans from animals is to fully understand the conditions by which such spread could have happened and do everything to prevent it happening again".

Last month, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified that United States intelligence agencies still do not know "exactly where, when or how Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially" in China but remain focused on two primary theories, that "it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident".

Two sources told CNN on Sunday that assessment has not changed.

You can read the full statement from the White House here.

China wholly rejects the theory the virus may have emerged from a virology lab in Wuhan and has instead accused the US of peddling conspiracies and politicizing the pandemic to divert attention from the high death rates there.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report the intelligence surrounding the earlier hospitalizations.

That State Department investigation that was shut down is separate from the intelligence community's investigation, which has never stopped.

Former US President Donald Trump had ruffled many feathers in China by repeatedly calling Coronavirus a "Chinese virus" and endorsed the view that the virus may have accidentally escaped from a laboratory and not through natural causes, that is a human coming in contact with an infected animal.

A World Health Organization report earlier this year said the most likely origin scenario was that the virus spread to humans from bats through an unspecified intermediary animal.

As part of today's Senate appropriations hearing on the 2022 budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), agency Director Francis Collins and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci were asked for their thoughts on the origins of COVID-19.

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