Biden renews COVID-19 origin probe that's so far come up empty

Lawrence Kim
May 27, 2021

A month-long investigation by a team formed by the World Health Organisation concluded earlier this year that transmission from an animal to a human was the "most likely" origin, but said a lab leak could not be ruled out. It has also sought cooperation from China in the research.

Biden has asked the USA national laboratories to delve deeper into the investigation of the origins of the virus.

"We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data", a group of researchers from top United States universities wrote in a letter published by leading journal Science in mid-May. The two competing theories were not given balanced consideration, they argued.

Responding to domestic and geopolitical concerns, the Biden administration is putting the question to China to come clean on the outbreak.

But the World Health Organization probe was criticized by the US, United Kingdom and other governments over its limited access to "complete, original data and samples".

The Wall Street Journal was first to report the intelligence surrounding the earlier hospitalizations.

The US had earlier called for a "transparent" phase 2 probe of the coronavirus origins study after a US newspaper reported that researchers at the Chinese virology laboratory in Wuhan had fallen ill back in 2019 almost a month before Chinese authorities reported the first coronavirus case to the WHO.

In a statement released by the White House, Biden said the report was to include "whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident".

"To politicize origin tracing, a matter of science, will not only make it hard to find the origin of the virus, but give free rein to the "political virus" and seriously hamper worldwide cooperation on the pandemic", the spokesperson said. He also called on China to provide all necessary information and evidence.

According to Koopmans, such a follow-up study should start where the WHO-China team left, and then combine it with other studies in China and overseas.

Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who is a member of the WHO-China joint team, told Global Times on Wednesday that the team didn't find any evidence of lab leak during their visit in Wuhan, and neither had anyone provided such evidence.

Chinese officials have emphasized research showing evidence of coronavirus infections outside China in late 2019 and pointed to frozen food imports as a possible vector.

Biden said: "As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China".

Doocy pressed again. "If another nation either was responsible or knew more than they were letting on..." However, they did not elaborate on the source of such political pressure and believed it could be coming from multiple countries. Biden has repeatedly cast China as America's top economic rival, and his Asia czar, Kurt Campbell, declared Wednesday that the USA effort to prioritize engagement with Beijing "has come to an end".

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked whether he believed COVID-19 was a "natural occurrence" at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

He added that scientific work of this magnitude can not be done in haste as it requires efforts on a global scale.

On its part, China urged the USA to invite World Health Organization experts to the U.S. and give others access to the Fort Detrick and its overseas bio-labs and to come clean on the unexplained respiratory disease outbreaks in northern Virginia in July 2019 and the EVALI outbreak in Wisconsin.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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