President Joe Biden was briefed Tuesday on the intelligence community report into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic that he requested in May, multiple outlets reported.
Investigators, however, could not conclusively say that the virus spilled over into the human population naturally from an infected animal, according to The Washington Post, which cited two unnamed officials. The report could not rule out the possibility that the virus was being studied in a Wuhan lab and inadvertently began infecting humans, eventually spreading around the globe.
A public version of the report is expected to be released in the coming days.
Researchers at the start of the pandemic said the overwhelming evidence pointed to a natural origin, meaning that the virus most likely came from bats, jumped into another animal, and then spilled over to humans ― but that a full evaluation would probably take years. The intermediary animal is not known, but some have suggested pangolins, which are known to be sold in at special wildlife markets in China because their scales are used for medicinal purposes.
But the World Health Organization’s efforts to dig into the virus’s origins have been repeatedly stymied by the Chinese government, which has now taken to pushing baseless theories that COVID-19 actually originated in the United States, according to The New York Times.
Throughout the final months of his presidency, Donald Trump asserted without evidence that the virus had originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Earlier this year, the idea attracted renewed attention when members of the scientific community said it could not be ruled out without more information.
Biden gave the intelligence community 90 days to “redouble their efforts” to determine the pandemic’s origins, hoping “to bring us closer to a definitive conclusion” on how it started.
The president stated May 26 that “the U.S. Intelligence Community has coalesced around two likely scenarios,” with two “elements” leaning toward natural origin and one leaning toward the so-called “lab-leak” theory. But none had high confidence in their assessment. Biden noted that “the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not have information on which “elements” of the intelligence community leaned one way or the other.
On Monday, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said that “the vast evidence” indicates “this was a naturally occurring virus.”
“Not to say that it could not have been under study secretly at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and got out of there, we don’t know about that. But the virus itself does not have the earmarks of having been created intentionally by human work,” Collins told CNBC.
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