Joe Biden has ordered the U.S. intelligence community to step up efforts to study the origins of the coronavirus, adding that it will continue to push for China to participate in a full investigation.
The president said he received a report earlier this month containing “the most up-to-date analysis of the origins of Covid-19” but had asked intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to identify a “finding final ”on how the virus was first transmitted to humans.
“I have now asked the intelligence community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that may bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days. As part of this report, I have requested additional areas of investigation that may be needed, including specific questions for China, ”Biden said in a statement Wednesday.
The novel coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019 and has since spread around the world, killing nearly 3.5 million people and infecting nearly 168 million, according to Johns Hopkins.
Much remains unknown about its origins and China has been sensitive to any suggestion that it could have done more in the early stages of the pandemic to stop it.
Biden’s request included asking the U.S. intelligence community to explore the unlikely possibility that the virus’ origins can be traced back to the Chinese lab. After months of downplaying the possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is responding to both national and geopolitical concerns to pressure China to be transparent about the outbreak.
Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus originated from a lab accident, rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal.
Biden’s request comes days after The Wall Street Journal broke news of a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report on three Wuhan researchers hospitalized with coronavirus-like symptoms in November 2019. The report has escalated public speculation that the virus had started to spread as a result of a lab. accident.
In his statement, Biden said the majority of the US intelligence community has “coalesced” around these two likely scenarios, but “doesn’t think there is enough information to assess either one as being more likely than the other ”. He revealed that two of the 18 intelligence agencies lean toward the animal link and “one lean more toward” lab theory, adding “each with low or moderate confidence.”
Biden has asked U.S. national laboratories to help with the investigation and called on China to cooperate with international investigations into the origins of the pandemic. Biden said he also asked the intelligence community to keep Congress informed of its work on the matter.
“The United States will also continue to work with like-minded partners around the world to pressure China to participate in a full, transparent and evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence, ”he said.
Earlier this year, China refused to allow a fact-finding mission to the country by the World Health Organization (WHO) to study the origins of Covid-19. The move came amid Beijing’s attempts to reshape the narrative of the disease’s origin.
When asked if the U.S. intelligence community had ruled out the possibility of a deliberate release of the coronavirus, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre replied: “We haven’t ruled anything out yet. . “
Speaking on Wednesday, she repeatedly stressed that the administration would have more information to offer on the investigation into the origins of the coronavirus once the review is completed.
Jean-Pierre has repeatedly criticized China for its lack of transparency in its information about the origins of the virus, echoing comments from other senior administration officials and international leaders.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday the White House supports a new WHO investigation in China, but added that it “will finally demand that China step up and allow necessary access. to determine the origins. “
Biden, for his part, raised the possibility that a firm conclusion will never be known, given the Chinese government’s refusal to fully cooperate with international investigations.
“The inability to bring our inspectors to the field during these first months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of Covid-19,” he added in his press release on Wednesday.
Associated Press contributed to this report