President Biden on Wednesday ordered U.S. intelligence services to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, publicly pointing out that his administration has ruled the possibility that it accidentally leaked from a laboratory, as well as the prevailing theory that it was transmitted from an animal to the People was transferred seriously.
In a statement, Mr Biden made it clear that the agencies had not reached a consensus on how the virus came about. But he directed them to “redouble their efforts” and report back in 90 days.
The president’s statement, his most public and expansive yet on uncertainty about the spread of the virus, came as senior health officials renewed their appeals this week for a closer investigation. There is also mounting criticism of an earlier report by an international team of experts accused of ruling out the possibility that the virus accidentally escaped from a Chinese laboratory.
For the past few days, the White House had downplayed the need for a United States-led investigation and insisted that the World Health Organization was the right place for an international investigation. Mr Biden’s testimony was an abrupt postponement, although officials refused to be specific about the postponement.
“What has changed is that he wants to give another 90 days to dig a little deeper to double – the IC to double their efforts,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, White House deputy press secretary , and referred to the intelligence community. “The WHO doing their thing and the IC doing what they’re doing are not mutually exclusive.”
However, Mr Biden’s comments suggested that his administration’s review of the evidence made it all the more urgent for American investigators to take the lead. In his statement, the president said he asked his national security advisor in March to instruct intelligence officials to report on their latest analysis of the origin of the virus.
Mr Biden said he received her report this month before asking for “additional follow-up”. The intelligence services “banded together on two likely scenarios,” he said, but they did not give a definitive answer to the question.
“Here is their current position: ‘While two elements in the IC tend toward the former and one toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – most elements do not believe that there is enough information to make one more likely than that others, ” said Mr. Biden.
The calls from the President and other senior American health officials were the latest in a string of calls by the White House over the past few months for such an investigation to be free from Chinese interference. However, they attracted additional attention when some scientists expressed a new openness to the idea of a laboratory accident and the WHO grappled with the response.
A joint investigation between the WHO and China, the results of which were published in March, dismissed the possibility that the virus had accidentally emerged from a laboratory as “extremely unlikely”.
These suggestions that the coronavirus might have been accidentally carried out from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 were largely drowned out by scientists last year about the likely path from an animal host to humans in a natural setting.
Many scientists, including those who run American health officials, believe that what is known as a spillover event remains the most plausible explanation for the pandemic. However, the joint WHO-China investigation did not resolve the matter: the Chinese government repeatedly tried to bend the investigation to their advantage, and Chinese scientists provided all of the research data used in the final report.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, criticized the report when he testified to Senate lawmakers on Wednesday about the agency’s budget.
“It is very likely that this is a virus that originated naturally. But we cannot rule out the possibility of a laboratory accident, ”he said. “That is why we have emphatically advocated that after the first phase of its investigation, the WHO should try again to really not satisfy anyone.”