United States President Joe Biden on Friday said that China was continuing to withhold “critical information” regarding the origin of Covid-19 virus after America’s intelligence community reported that it was unable to reach a firm conclusion on it due to China’s unwillingness to cooperate.
“Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it,” Biden said in a statement.
He added: “To this day, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] continues to reject calls for transparency and withhold information, even as the toll of this pandemic continue to rise.”
Since the outbreak of the pandemic in China’s Wuhan city in December 2019, several leaders, including former US President Donald Trump and India’s Union minister Nitin Gadkari, have claimed that the virus emerged from a laboratory in China.
However, Beijing has refuted the allegations. Most experts also believe the virus originated in a market that traded in wildlife in Wuhan.
In May, Biden had asked the country’s intelligence agencies to report to him within 90 days the origin of the Covid-19 virus. On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the unclassified summary of the report assessment of the intelligence agencies on the origin of the virus.
Intelligence agencies remained divided on the virus’ origin. According to the evaluation, the virus emerged due to initial small-scale exposure that happened not after November 2019, and the first cluster was found in Wuhan, China in December. It also assessed that China’s officials did not have foreknowledge about the virus before it emerged.
The intelligence community, however, could not gather a consensus on how the virus actually emerged and came up with two hypotheses.
First, the National Intelligence Council and four other intelligence agencies assessed with “low confidence” that the virus was most likely caused by natural exposure of a human being to an animal infected with Covid-19 or a close “progenitor virus” that probably would be over 99% similar to SARS-CoV-2.
“These analysts give weight to China’s officials’ lack of foreknowledge, the numerous vectors for natural exposure, and other factors,” the summary said.
The second hypothesis, backed by one intelligence agency with “moderate confidence”, was that the first human infection was due to a laboratory-related incident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that was probably conducting experimentation, animal handling, or sampling.
“Variations in analytic views largely stem from differences in how agencies weigh intelligence reporting and scientific publications, and intelligence and scientific gaps,” the summary explained.
The report said that China’s cooperation was needed to arrive at a conclusive assessment.
“Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States,” it said. “These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.”
After the report was submitted, Biden said that the US would continue to work with other countries and agencies to press China to share the information fully, and to work with the World Health Organization on its investigation for determining the origin of Covid-19.
“We will also continue to press the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to adhere to scientific norms and standards, including sharing information and data from the earliest days of the pandemic, protocols related to biosafety, and information from animal populations,” he said. “We must have a full and transparent accounting of this global tragedy.”
So far, Covid-19 has infected more than 21.53 crore people across the world and led to over 44.85 lakh deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in December 2019, according to Johns Hopkins University.