Biden says he's asked intelligence community to "redouble" efforts in examining origins of COVID-19
Washington — President Biden said Wednesday he has ordered the U.S. intelligence community to "redouble" its efforts to investigate the origins of COVID-19 after a new report fueled questions about whether the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.
Mr. Biden said in a statement he is giving the intelligence community 90 days to "collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion" about where COVID-19 started and report back to him. As part of the requested report, the president asked for areas of additional inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China. Mr. Biden said the effort will include work by Department of Energy's National Labs and other government agencies to supplement the intelligence community in its investigation.
Mr. Biden said he received a report from the intelligence community earlier this month exploring whether COVID-19 emerged from human contact with an infected animal or through a laboratory accident, but the agencies are split.
"As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has 'coalesced around two likely scenarios' but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question," the president said. "Here is their current position: 'while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.'"
Mr. Biden lamented that the failure for the Trump administration to get U.S. inspectors on the ground in China in the early months of the pandemic "will always hamper any investigation" into the virus's origins.
"The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence," the president said.
Suspicions around the origins of COVID-19 arose again this week after the Wall Street Journal reported three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China sought hospital treatment in November 2019 after becoming sick. China reported the first cases of COVID-19 in December 2019.
CBS News learned some government officials privy to classified briefings about the coronavirus pandemic have become more open to the theory the virus originated in a lab, a prospect that was also suggested by Trump administration officials. When asked whether the report cited by the Wall Street Journal was accurate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday "we have no means of confirming or denying that."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to Mr. Biden, told CBS News earlier this week he believes it is "highly likely" the virus occurred naturally in the environment and spread with animal-to-human transmission, but is open to a "good, thorough investigation" into the origins.
The World Health Organization conducted its own examination into the origins of COVID-19, but determined a lab leak is "extremely unlikely." The White House, however, has questioned the process used to reach those findings, and principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed Wednesday the Chinese government needs to turn over data and information.
"China wasn't transparent enough," she said Wednesday during the White House press briefing. "We have been saying that for a very long time, that China needed to provide more access to the lab, cooperate more fully with the scientific investigators, and we don't think they've met that standard."
More than 3.4 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, including more than 591,000 in the U.S.
Weijia Jiang contributed to this report.
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