WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden has ordered U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any possibility that the track could lead to a laboratory Chinese.
After months of minimizing this possibility as a marginal theory, the Biden administration is adding to global pressure to make China more open about the outbreak, with the goal of dismissing Republican Party complaints, the president did not it has been tough enough and seized the opportunity to pressure China for alleged obstruction.
Biden on Wednesday called on U.S. intelligence agencies to report within 90 days. He led U.S. national laboratories to help with research and the intelligence community to prepare a list of specific consultations for the Chinese government. He called on China to cooperate with international research on the origins of the pandemic.
Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus arose from a lab accident rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal in Wuhan, China.
Biden said in a statement that the majority of the intelligence community had “joined” around these two scenarios, but “I don’t think there is enough information to assess which one is more likely to be other “. He revealed that two agencies are leaning towards the animal bond and “one is leaning more towards” laboratory theory, “each with low or moderate confidence.”
“The United States will also continue to work with like-minded partners around the world to pressure China to participate in a comprehensive, transparent, evidence-based international investigation that provides access to all relevant data and evidence,” Biden said.
Her statement came after weeks in which the administration tried to avoid public discussion of laboratory leak theory and suggested in private that it was outlandish.
In another sign of changing attitudes, the Senate passed two unopposed oppositions related to the Wuhan Laboratory, which attached them to an unrelated bill largely to increase U.S. investment in innovation.
One of the amendments, by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Would block U.S. funding of Chinese research on “function gain” to improve the severity or transmissibility of a virus. Paul has been critical of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, and aggressively questioned him at a recent Senate hearing on working in China. The other amendment was from Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, which would prevent funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Both were passed without a roll-call vote as part of the broader bill that is still under debate in the Senate.
As for the source of the pandemic, Fauci, a White House coronavirus adviser, said Wednesday that he and most other members of the scientific community “believe the scenario is most likely to be a natural, but no one knows for sure. “
“And because there is a lot of concern, a lot of speculation and because no one knows it at all, I think we need the kind of research where there is open transparency and all the information available, to make it available, to examine it. “. Fauci said in a Senate hearing.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the White House supports a new World Health Organization investigation into China, but added that an effective investigation “would require China to finally intensify and allow the necessary access to determine the origins “.
Biden further affirmed the possibility that a firm conclusion could never be reached, given the Chinese government’s refusal to fully cooperate with international investigations.
“Failure to get our inspectors on the ground in these first few months will always make any investigation into the origin of COVID-19 difficult,” he said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington, not to mention the Biden order, accused unnamed political forces of fixing a game of guilt while ignoring the urgent need to fight the pandemic.
“The smear campaign and the shift of blame are coming back, and the conspiracy theory of the‘ lab leak ’is resurfacing,” the embassy said in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday.
Administration officials continue to have strong doubts about the theory of laboratory leaks. Rather, they consider China’s refusal to cooperate in research – especially on something of this magnitude – to be emblematic of other irresponsible actions on the world stage.
In private, administration officials say the end result, if you never know, won’t change anything, but keep in mind that China’s stone wall is already exposed for the world to see.
The State Department, which ended a Trump-era probe into Chinese lab theory this spring, said it continued to cooperate with other government agencies and pressured China to cooperate with the world.
“China’s position that its part in this investigation is complete is disappointing and is at odds with the rest of the international community working collaboratively to end this pandemic and improve global health security,” he said. say spokesman Ned Price.
Research into the origins of the virus is of critical importance, said Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist with the Organization for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases in Saskatchewan, Canada, because: “If you don’t know where it came from, how would you stop to spread it again? “
“The high probability is still that this virus will come from a wildlife reservoir,” he said, noting that derived events (when viruses jump from animals to humans) are common in nature and that scientists already they know two similar beta coronaviruses that evolved into bats and caused epidemics when humans became infected, SARS1 and MERS. “The evidence we have so far suggests that this virus came from wildlife,” he said
However, the case is not completely closed. “There are probabilities and there are possibilities,” Banerjee said. “Because no one has identified a virus that is 100% identical to SARS-CoV-2 in any animal, there is still room for researchers to wonder about other possibilities.”
Andy Slavitt, Biden’s senior advisor for coronavirus, said Tuesday that the world needs to “get to the bottom of it … whatever the answer.”
“We need a completely transparent process from China; we need the WHO to help in this matter, ”Slavitt said. “We don’t feel like we have it now.”
Associated Press writers Christina Larson, Matthew Lee, Lisa Mascaro and Ken Moritsugu contributed to this report.