US intelligence believes China’s leaders didn’t know about virus origins

Published August 28, 2021
The word "COVID-19" is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. — Reuters/File
The word "COVID-19" is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: US inte­lligence agencies remain divided on the origins of the coronavirus, but believe China’s leaders did not know about the virus before the start of the global pandemic, according to results released on Friday of a review ordered by President Joe Biden.

According to an unclassified summary, four members of the intelligence community say with “low confidence” that the virus was initially transmitted from an animal to a human. A fifth intelligence agency believes, with “moderate confidence”, that the first human infection was linked to a lab. Analysts do not believe the virus was developed as a bioweapon.

China’s refusal to fully cooperate with US and international investigations of the virus has hampered reviews of its origins. The Director of National Intelligence said on Friday that China continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States.

Experts reject notion virus was developed as a bioweapon

The cause of the coronavirus remains an urgent public health and security concern worldwide. In the US, many conservatives have accused Chinese scientists of developing Covid-19 in a lab and allowing it to leak.

The scientific consensus remains that the virus most likely migrated from animals in what’s known as a zoonotic transmission.

In a statement, President Biden said China had obstructed efforts to investigate the virus from the beginning.

“The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” he said. “Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world.”

China’s foreign ministry attacked the US investigation ahead of the report’s release. Fu Cong, a foreign ministry director general, said at a briefing for foreign journalists that scapegoating China cannot whitewash the US If they want to baselessly accuse China, they better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China, he added.

Biden ordered a 90-day review in May of what the White House said was an initial finding leading to two likely scenarios: an animal-to-human transmission or a lab leak. The White House said then that two agencies in the 18-member intelligence community leaned toward the hypothesis of a transmission in nature and another agency leaned toward a lab leak.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday did not identify which agencies supported either hypothesis. But it noted some of the same hurdles facing the World Health Organisation and scientists worldwide: a lack of clinical samples and data from the earliest cases of Covid-19.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2021

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