The announcement comes after a U.S. intelligence report found that several researchers at the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan fell ill in November 2019 and required hospitalization – a new detail that has fueled further debate over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
“As part of this report, I have requested additional areas of investigation that may be needed, including specific questions for China. I have also requested that this effort include the work of our national laboratories and other agencies of our government to increase the capacities of the intelligence community. And I have asked the intelligence community to keep Congress fully informed of its work, ”Biden said in a statement.
The President said: “The failure of our inspectors on the ground during these first months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19. “
Biden said in the statement that in March he ordered his national security adviser Jake Sullivan to task the intelligence community with preparing a report on the most up-to-date analysis of the origins of the Covid pandemic. -19, including if the virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident. Biden said he received this report earlier this month and requested further follow-up.
This is essentially the same public determination that the intelligence community has had for over a year on the origins of Covid-19 although Wednesday’s statement makes it clear that both of these scenarios are “probable” and do not just make the difference. ‘under investigation. CNN reported in April 2020 that the intelligence community was investigating whether the novel coronavirus was spreading from a Chinese lab rather than a market in Wuhan, China. The Chinese government has maintained that the virus originates and spreads naturally.
Last month, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testified that US intelligence agencies still do not know “exactly where, when or how the Covid-19 virus was originally transmitted” in China but remain focused on two main theories, according to which “it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident.” “
Two sources told CNN on Sunday that the assessment had not changed.
Biden said the United States will work with its allies to continue to pressure China “to participate in a full, transparent and evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all data and evidence. relevant ”.
When asked during a White House briefing if the announcement was linked to the recent U.S. intelligence report on the researchers’ disease, senior press assistant Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday that the question was “something the president was working on for some time.” “
“We’ve been saying for a very long time that China needs to provide more access to the lab, cooperate more fully with scientific investigators, and we don’t think they meet that standard,” Jean-Pierre told CNN’s Phil. Mattingly.
She added: “Getting to the bottom of the origin of this pandemic will help us understand how to prepare for the next pandemic and the next. “
CNN reported on Tuesday that Biden’s team ended a tight State Department effort launched at the end of the Trump administration to prove that Covid-19 came from a Chinese lab over quality concerns of his work, according to three sources close to the decision.
The decision to end the investigation, which was primarily handled by the State Department’s Arms Control and Verification Office, came after Biden officials were made aware of the team’s draft findings. in February and March of this year, a State Department spokesperson said.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report information surrounding previous hospitalizations.
This closed State Department investigation is separate from the intelligence community investigation, which has never ceased. U.S. intelligence agencies have continued to investigate whether the virus arose naturally from human contact with infected animals or whether it could have been the result of a laboratory accident.
The World Health Organization has conducted an investigation into the origins of the pandemic and concluded in a report that the risk of an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute, where coronavirus research was being carried out on bald people. mouse, was “extremely weak”. The report states that there were “no reports of Covid-19 compatible respiratory disease in the weeks / months leading up to December 2019, and no serological evidence of infection in workers through specific serological screening. SARS-CoV-2 ”.
But the WHO survey has been criticized by the US, UK and other governments for its limited access to “complete and original data and samples.” The organization was also accused of showing too much deference to China throughout the study. The study was co-authored by 17 Chinese scientists, including several from public institutions.
When the WHO report was released in March, the group’s chief executive, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a statement that the report was the start, not the end, of the investigation into the source of the virus.
“We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and not neglect anything as we are doing,” the WHO Director-General said in a statement.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Kylie Atwood, Katie Bo Williams and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.