In a statement on Wednesday, Biden said that while the U.S. intelligence community had “merged around two likely scenarios,” it had yet to come to a definitive conclusion on the origin of the coronavirus.
He also doesn’t have much faith in his current conclusions and remains divided on what is most likely.
As a result, Biden said he asked U.S. intelligence agencies “to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that may bring us closer to a definitive conclusion” and report to him in 90 days.
“As part of this report, I have requested additional areas of investigation that may be needed, including specific questions for China,” the US president said.
A World Health Organization (WHO) study published in late March concluded that transmission of the virus from bats to humans by another animal was the most likely scenario and that a laboratory leak was ” extremely unlikely ”.
Questions persist, however, about the level of access WHO investigators received during a fact-finding mission to Wuhan, China, as well as previous reports of the disease among researchers at the Institute of Virology. from Wuhan.
A group of 14 countries expressed concern over the WHO report, citing delays and lack of full access to data, while the WHO chief also called for further investigation of the theory that the outbreak was the result of a lab leak. China strongly rejected this accusation.
Late Thursday, the Chinese embassy in the United States criticized Biden’s decision, saying “politicizing” the issue would hamper investigations into the origins of the coronavirus.
China supports “a full study of all the first cases of COVID-19 found around the world and a full investigation of some secret bases and biological laboratories around the world,” the embassy said in remarks attributed to a spokesperson that have been posted on its website.
U.S. intelligence agencies have looked at reports that researchers at the Wuhan Virology Lab were critically ill in 2019, a month before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported.
But U.S. government sources warned earlier this week that there was still no evidence the disease originated from the lab.
A still-classified US intelligence report circulated under the administration of former President Donald Trump alleged that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell so ill in November 2019 that they sought hospital treatment sources close to US intelligence reports and analyzes told Reuters news agency.
It is still unclear whether the researchers were admitted to hospital or what their symptoms were, said one of the sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday that the information was “completely false.”
Meanwhile, Biden said on Wednesday that “the United States will also continue to work with like-minded partners around the world to pressure China to participate in a comprehensive, transparent, and ground-based international investigation. evidence and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence ”. .
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president’s directive should not be interpreted as a US rejection of the WHO study, but rather aimed at providing the best information and US resources to resolve outstanding issues.
“WHO is doing its thing and [intelligence community] doing what they are currently doing is not mutually exclusive, ”said Jean-Pierre.
“It’s something that could happen at the same time,” she told White House reporters.