President Joe Biden ordered the United States intelligence community on Wednesday to “redouble” its investigation into the origins of Covid-19 after startling new evidence indicated that the virus may have accidentally escaped from a laboratory in China.
In a statement, Biden said intelligence officials presented him with a report earlier this month that determined Covid-19 “emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” US intelligence agencies have “low to moderate confidence” in both scenarios and unable to “assess one to be more likely than the other,” Biden said.
The inconclusive intelligence assessment necessitates more investigation, Biden said.
“I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days,” Biden said, adding that US government laboratories and scientific agencies will assist in the inquiry.
The president’s directive came on the heels of The Wall Street Journal reporting Sunday that three researchers at a lab in China’s Wuhan province fell sick in November 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness.” The lab studies coronaviruses and other pathogens, and the newspaper reported that the US intelligence community is scrutinizing the three researches falling ill as part of the inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.
Covid-19 — which has killed more than 3.4 million people worldwide, including nearly 600,000 Americans — first appeared in Wuhan in late 2019, but the exact source remains unknown.
Some research indicates it came from bats who in turn infected humans, but speculation about a possible lab leak source has swirled in recent months.
The Chinese government has largely refused to cooperate with US and World Health Organization investigations into the source of Covid-19.
Biden said he will work with U.S. allies to “press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence.”
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that a major investigative hurdle has been China’s refusal to allow access to the Wuhan lab.
“We need to get to the bottom of this,” she said. “China needs to provide more access.”
The US intelligence community’s unwillingness to rule out a lab accident as the cause of Covid-19 stands in contrast to a World Health Organization report from February that called the possibility “extremely unlikely.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top pandemic adviser, testified before a Senate committee on Wednesday that most public health experts side with the WHO on the matter and “believe that the most likely scenario” is that the coronavirus pandemic “was a natural occurrence.”
In his statement, Biden conceded that an absolute conclusion may never be reached because of China’s stonewalling.
“The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” he said.
China rejects new investigations
China rejected US President Joe Biden's order for a new investigation by US intelligence agencies into the origins of the coronavirus, accusing the US of trying to politicize the search.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Thursday accused the US of trying to pin the blame for the pandemic on China and defended his country against suspicions that the coronavirus may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory following an accident.
He stressed that World Health Organization (WHO) experts had concluded in February that a leak from a lab was "extremely unlikely" after they had conducted investigations in the central city of Wuhan.
"Some people in the US are turning a blind eye to the facts," Zhao said, adding that they are trying to distract from their own "incompetent response" to the pandemic. He also suggested that the coronavirus could have originated from a US military laboratory.
"There are many doubts about [the lab] at Fort Detrick - and the US has more than 200 biological laboratories in the world," he said.
If the US asked China to participate in a full investigation, he said, China in turn would ask the US to follow China's lead and allow international investigations.