US intelligence still divided on origins of coronavirus

Unclassified report shows some believe virus jumped from animals to humans while others think it could have escaped from a lab

US intelligence agencies remain divided on the origins of the coronavirus but believe China’s leaders did not know about the virus before the start of the global pandemic, results of a review ordered by President Joe Biden showed.

An unclassified summary of the report, released on Friday, said that four members of the US intelligence community say with low confidence that the virus was initially transmitted from an animal to a human. A fifth intelligence agency believes with moderate confidence that the first human infection was linked to a lab. Analysts do not believe the virus was developed as a bioweapon.

China’s refusal to fully co-operate with US and international investigations into the virus has hampered probes into its origins. The Director of National Intelligence said Friday that China “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States".

The cause of the coronavirus remains an urgent public health and security concern worldwide. In the US, many conservatives have accused Chinese scientists of developing Covid-19 in a lab and allowing it to leak.

The scientific consensus remains that the virus is most likely to have migrated from animals in what is known as zoonotic transmission.

In a statement, Mr Biden said China had obstructed efforts to investigate the virus “from the beginning".

“The world deserves answers and I will not rest until we get them,” he said. “Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world.”

China’s foreign ministry attacked the US investigation before the report’s release.

Fu Cong, a foreign ministry director general, said at a briefing for foreign journalists that “scapegoating China cannot whitewash the US".

“If they want to baselessly accuse China, they had better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China,” he said.

Mr Biden in May ordered a 90-day review of what the White House said was an initial finding leading to “two likely scenarios”: an animal-to-human transmission or a lab leak. The White House then said that two agencies in the 18-member intelligence community leaned toward the hypothesis of a transmission in nature and another agency leaned towards a lab leak.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday did not identify which agencies supported either hypothesis, but it noted some of the same hurdles facing the World Health Organisation and scientists worldwide: a lack of clinical samples and data from the earliest cases of Covid-19.

Beijing’s co-operation would be needed to make further progress, the office said.

In conducting the review, intelligence agencies consulted with allied nations and experts outside of government.

Updated: August 27th 2021, 8:44 PM
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