Biden asks US intel officials to investigate COVID-19 origin, China responds

Coronavirus

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday asked U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the unlikely possibility that the origins of the virus trace to a Chinese lab.

After months of minimizing the possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is responding both to domestic and geopolitical concerns about putting pressure on China to be transparent about the outbreak.

China on Thursday accused the Biden administration of playing politics and shirking its responsibility in calling for a renewed investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic that was first detected in China in late 2019.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing that President Joe Biden’s order showed the U.S. “does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing.”

Biden asked U.S. intelligence agencies to report back on their findings within 90 days. He directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and called on China to cooperate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.

Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident, rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal.

Biden in a statement said the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around those two likely scenarios but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.” He revealed that two of the 18 intelligence agencies lean toward the animal link and “one leans more toward” the lab theory, adding, “each with low or moderate confidence.”

Biden directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and called on China to cooperate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.

“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,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the White House supports a new World Health Organization investigation in China, but added it “would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins.”

Biden, for his part, held out the possibility that a firm conclusion may never be known, given the Chinese government’s refusal to fully cooperate with international investigations.

“The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” he added.

China’s refusal to cooperate in the investigation — particularly on something of such magnitude — as emblematic of other irresponsible actions on the world stage.

Privately, administration officials say the end result, if ever known, won’t change anything, but note China’s stonewalling is now on display for the world to see.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a White House coronavirus adviser, said Wednesday that he and most others in the scientific community “believe that the most likely scenario is that this was a natural occurrence, but one knows that 100 percent for sure.”

“And since there’s a lot of concern, a lot of speculation and since no one absolutely knows that, I believe we do need the kind of investigation where there’s open transparency and all the information that’s available, to be made available, to scrutinize,” Fauci said at a Senate hearing.

Andy Slavitt, Biden’s senior adviser for the coronavirus, said Tuesday that the world needs to “get to the bottom … whatever the answer may be.”

“We need a completely transparent process from China; we need the WHO to assist in that matter,”” Slavitt said. “We don’t feel like we have that now.”

Joe Khalil and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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