New Delhi: US President Joe Biden Wednesday called for a 90-day probe to look deeper into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic after intelligence officials told the White House that they had a “raft of still-unexamined evidence that required additional computer analysis that might shed light on the mystery”.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Biden said he had received the report on the findings of the origins of the coronavirus from National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan earlier this month, which concluded that while two elements of the intelligence community “lean” toward the scenario that the virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal, another leans towards the case of a laboratory accident.
“I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days,” Biden said in the statement.
According to officials in the US administration, the move to push intelligence agencies to “redouble their efforts” to determine the origins of the coronavirus, which has claimed 34,94,758 lives globally and 16,30,109 in the United States, will provide the “opportunity for stepped-up intelligence cooperation with allies” and motivate them to look out for new intelligence to check whether the Chinese government covered up an accidental leak.
In May last year, several intelligence sources from the Five Eyes, an informal network consisting of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, contradicted the Covid-19 lab leak theory claimed by the White House.
Biden Thursday said he will make the results public “unless there’s something I’m unaware of”.
Biden’s call for the investigation on Covid-19 origin came two days after a report in the Wall Street Journal Sunday revealed that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalised in November 2019 just before the outbreak was confirmed in China.
While the information about the sick staff is considered important, some senior officials The New York Times had spoken to had “cautioned that it did not constitute evidence that they caught the virus at the laboratory but that they may have brought it there”.
According to administration and intelligence officials, the probe will require the participation of both scientists and spies in trying to understand how the outbreak happened.
‘Too little, too late’
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who has long argued the coronavirus could have emerged accidentally from the Wuhan lab, said Biden’s order was “better late than never, but far from adequate”.
Reacting to the announcement, Cotton said the Biden administration’s response was “too little, too late”.
Cotton, who had repeatedly called the lab leak theory the “most logical explanation”, said: “Our intelligence community has been looking at this now for 15 months. They’ve done good work on it, but in the end, the answer lies in the hands of Chinese communists, not people working for American intelligence agencies.”
Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser on the Covid-19 response, Tuesday called the inquiry a “critical priority”, while Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, in an annual ministerial meeting of the World Health Organization the same day, emphasised the need for a “transparent” follow-up investigation into the origins of the virus to prepare for “future biological threats”.
China Thursday hit back at Biden’s call to redouble efforts to determine the origins of the coronavirus, and dismissed a theory that it may have leaked from a laboratory in its city of Wuhan as a “conspiracy”.
Chinese officials Thursday slammed the move and said international experts had “repeatedly praised China’s open and transparent attitude” to Covid’s origins.
“If the US really wants full and transparent investigation on coronavirus origins, it should invite WHO experts into the country, as China has done, and open Fort Detrick base ASAP and disclose detailed data on unexplained respiratory illnesses in July 2019,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Thursday.
Fort Detrick, a US Army Futures Command installation in Maryland, was the centre of US’ biological weapons programme between 1943 and 1969. The facility has hosted most elements of the US biological defence system after the discontinuation of the programme.