President Joe Biden said Wednesday he is directing the intelligence community to dig deeper into the origins of the global pandemic, and whether or not a lab leak in Wuhan or host animal were the cause for the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-Cov-2.
However, Biden said he received an intelligence report earlier this month that did not conclude either scenario as more likely.
"Here is their current position: 'While two elements in the IC [Intelligence Community] leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other,'" Biden said in a statement.
The theory of a Wuhan lab leak has gained fresh momentum in recent weeks, after Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Poynter Institute earlier this month he is not confident about the theory of origin in animals.
"Certainly the people who've investigated say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else. And we need to find that out," said Fauci, the nation's top epidemiologist and White House chief medical adviser.
Oregon Health and Science University professor Dr. Esther Choo told Yahoo Finance that zoonotic origin of viruses is the norm, so it is safe to assume the same for this virus.
"There's been a lot of speculation that the virus could come from kind of a malicious source. But I want to be really clear that much of the speculation around laboratory origins has been just that— speculation, not credible evidence," Choo said.
Still, calls for thorough investigations, at the global level and by the U.S., continue.
At a White House COVID-19 briefing this week, Fauci reiterated the need for further investigation.
"We don't know 100% the answer to that. And since this is a question that keeps begin asked, we feel ... that we should continue with the investigation," Fauci said.
Fauci and National Institute of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins faced a number of questions about the theories and the politics at play during Congressional panel hearings this week.
"The WHO did what they're referring to now as Phase 1 of an investigation, they felt was not completely adequate," Fauci told a Senate panel Wednesday, adding that U.S. health officials have been calling for a continuation of the investigation.
Responding to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Fauci said thus far, there is no confirmed theory about the origins of the virus. He said that the theory of transmission through an animal host was seen in both the previous coronavirus outbreaks in China and the Middle East, which is why it remains a prominent theory for the new virus causing the current global pandemic.
In addition, Fauci said, a timeline for when we will uncover the origins is unclear.
"We still have not yet confirmed what the host is from Ebola. We know that Ebola jumps from an animal reservoir to humans, and its been many years now since the original Ebola outbreak," Fauci said.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded an initial report from a joint mission in China to uncover the origins. It stated the likelihood of the virus originating in a lab was very low, but a host animal or even the frozen food chain, and thus an origination outside of China, were likely.
That report has faced significant criticism, as experts say the WHO team was not given adequate access and information. That piles on to criticism of the WHO's handling of the pandemic, with China's growing role causing concern for some.
China has played an increasingly visible role in the global response to the pandemic, including increasing funding to the WHO when the U.S. pulled out under the Trump administration and clinching emergency authorizations with several countries to distribute its vaccines.
Doubts about China's willingness to admit if something went wrong, and what it knew when, linger more than a year since the start of the pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report showed three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology showed up at a hospital in November 2019, a month before China acknowledged the outbreak, with symptoms similar to COVID-19 and other common illnesses.
Fauci has repeatedly leaned toward natural transmission, citing studies of the genetic makeup of the virus. Scientists have also leaned that way, but are also supportive of the WHO's efforts to conduct a thorough investigation.
Meanwhile, Biden has asked the intelligence community to provide a report within 90 days.
"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.
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