President Joe Biden ordered US intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory, after new information regarding Wuhan researchers’ illness has surfaced. The intelligence community has been unable to reach a conclusion as to whether it came from human contact with an infected animal or if it was the result of a laboratory accident. President Biden has claimed that “the US intelligence community has ‘coalesced around the two likely scenarios’”.
Biden was Hesitant
For months, Biden claimed that the possibility that COVID-19 originated in a laboratory was a fringe theory. The administration endeavored to avoid public discussion of the lab leak theory and privately suggested it was farfetched. The Biden administration is now falling into GOP pressure that the president has not been tough enough on China. The international community is also pressuring China to be more open about the outbreak.
Republicans, on the other hand, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal in Wuhan, China.
Biden asked US intelligence agencies to report back within 90 days. He also directed US national laboratories to assist with the investigation and the intelligence community to prepare a list of specific queries for the Chinese government. He called on China to cooperate with the probes. “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,” Biden said, highlighting the fact that this was not necessarily the case in the WHO investigation.
Biden’s new attitude towards the Wuhan lab possibility also comes with the Senate approving to Wuhan lab-related amendments without opposition. These were attached to a largely-unrelated bill to increase US investments in innovation. One of the amendments, from Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., would block US funding of Chinese “gain of function” research on enhancing the severity or transmissibility of a virus. Rand Paul has been critical of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, and aggressively questioned him at a recent Senate hearing over the work in China.
The other amendment, from Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA, would prevent any funding into the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Both were approved without roll call votes as part of the broader bill that is still under debate in the Senate.
Source of Virus: Two Scenarios
The majority of intelligence officials have gathered around the two scenarios but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.” Two agencies lean more toward the animal link and “one leans more toward” the lab theory.
Information Pointing Towards the Wuhan Lab
A US intelligence report found that several researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized. The new information about the severity of their symptoms fuels further debate about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. A State Department fact sheet released by the Trump administration in January said that the researchers had gotten sick in autumn 2019 but did not go as far as to say they had been hospitalized. China reported to the World Health Organization that the first patient with Covid-like symptoms was recorded in Wuhan on December 8, 2019. However, the Wall Street Journal reported on intelligence surrounding earlier hospitalizations- November 2019. In the final days of the Trump administration, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leaned into the possibility that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or WIV. Despite the intelligence being inconclusive, Pompeo put out a fact sheet that said the US had evidence researchers at the WIV had been sick in the fall of 2019 with Covid-like symptoms and that the lab, where coronavirus had been studied in bats, had a history of military research. Current and former intelligence officials say that the idea that the virus was accidentally unleashed from the lab at Wuhan is reasonable, although they caution that there is no high-confidence assessment of that possibility.
Problematic WHO Investigation
The WHO probe was swiftly criticized by the US, UK, and other governments over its limited access to “complete, original data and samples.” The organization was also accused of being overly deferential to China throughout the course of the study, which was co-authored by 17 Chinese scientists — several of them from state-run institutions.