Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
President Joe Biden ordered U.S. intelligence agencies on Wednesday to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus and report back in 90 days.
Biden indicated that two possibilities are still on the table — the prominent theory that it was transmitted from an animal to humans outside of a lab or that it was accidentally leaked from a lab. He said the CIA and other intelligence agencies hadn’t yet reached a consensus on how the coronavirus began in China.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Biden also said he asked the intelligence agencies in March to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the virus origins, including whether it came from human contact or a lab accident. He said he received the report earlier this month and that the agencies had “coalesced around two likely scenarios” but hadn’t reached a “definitive conclusion.” They indicated there wasn’t “sufficient information” to determine whether one scenario was more likely than the other, he said.
As part of the new report, Biden said, “I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China.”
Biden’s announcement came as top U.S. public health officials have voiced their concerns publicly about the origins of the virus. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has spoken recently about the need for a more rigorous review of evidence. Public health officials have also criticized a WHO report from an international team of experts who visited China earlier this year and mostly dismissed the idea that the virus came from an accidental lab leak.
Even still, most scientists have said they believe the virus came from a “natural spillover” from an infected animal to humans, The New York Times reported. Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, has been working with U.S. intelligence agencies to discuss the various views and review the evidence, which has led to a call for additional investigation, the newspaper reported.
Biden’s statement was ready earlier this week, but he felt the lack of consensus among intelligence groups wouldn’t help clarify the issue publicly, the newspaper reported. On Tuesday, however, China declined to cooperate with the WHO on additional inquiries, which prompted Biden to call for a more detailed U.S. investigation.
Following the announcement, China criticized the Biden administration on Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
The U.S. “does not care about facts or truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said during a daily briefing. He also called on the U.S. to open itself up to investigations into its biological laboratories.
“The U.S. side claims that it wants China to participate in a comprehensive, transparent, evidence-based international investigation,” Zhao said. “We would like to ask the U.S. side to do the same as China and immediately cooperate with the World Health Organization on origin tracing research in a scientific manner.”
Also following Biden’s statement, Facebook said it would no longer remove posts that claim the coronavirus was man-made or manufactured, according to Politico. Facebook announced in February that it had expanded the list of misleading health claims that it would remove from its platforms, including posts that said the virus was man-made.
“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a company spokesperson told the news outlet in an emailed statement.
“We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge,” the statement said.
The New York Times: “Biden Orders Intelligence Inquiry Into Origins of Virus.”
The White House: “Statement by President Joe Biden on the Investigation into the Origins of COVID-19.”
WebMD: “3 Wuhan Lab Workers’ 2019 Illness Raises Concerns.”
The Associated Press: “China says politics behind US call for virus origin probe.”
POLITICO: “Facebook no longer treating ‘man-made’ Covid as a crackpot idea.”