Coronavirus | Joe Biden orders probe into virus origins

Increased scrutiny:  Joe Biden speaking with reporters before boarding Marine One  in Washington on Tuesday.

Increased scrutiny: Joe Biden speaking with reporters before boarding Marine One in Washington on Tuesday.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he has asked American intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to analyse the origins of COVID-19, to determine whether it emerged from human-animal contact or via a laboratory accident. With this, Mr. Biden adds significantly to the growing pressure on China to be more open about the origins of the SARS-COV2 virus, an outbreak of which was seen first in early 2020 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which houses the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

Mr. Biden said he had reviewed a report on the origins of the virus, authored by his National Security Adviser (Jake Sullivan) and intelligence officials and that the intelligence community had “coalesced around two likely scenarios”, yet not reached a “definitive conclusion” as to the origins of the virus. Currently, there is “low to moderate confidence” attached to each of the two theories on the virus’s origins, Mr. Biden said.

Definitive conclusion

“I have now asked the intelligence community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days,” Mr. Biden said in a statement, adding he had asked that specific questions for China be drawn up with input from U.S. national labs.

“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” Mr. Biden said.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) investigation concluded, earlier this year, that the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely”. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told a WHO ministerial meeting earlier this week that experts should be given the independence to fully assess the origins of the virus. On May 14, a group of scientists, including from Harvard, Yale and Stanford, published a letter in the journal Science saying an accidental lab leak and “zootonic spillover” (i.e., from animals) remained “viable” theories.

The Trump administration had floated the idea that the virus might have got out of control after a laboratory accident. However, Donald Trump had muddied the waters around the issue including by referring to the SARS-COV2 virus as the ‘Wuhan virus’ or ‘Chinese virus’ — contributing, some argued, to violence against Asians in the U.S.

Wuhan amendments

“The U.S. government has reasons to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019,” a State Department fact sheet released in the last days of the Trump administration said. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that three WIV scientists were sick enough in November 2019 to need hospital care.

“Now everybody is agreeing that I was right when I very early on called Wuhan as the source of COVID-19,” Mr. Trump said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the Senate unanimously approved two Wuhan-related amendments, the Washington Post reported. One amendment would block U.S. funding for virus ‘gain of function’ research and the other would prevent U.S. funding for WIV.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2022 8:44:16 am |