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Assessment by the US intelligence community does not determine the origin of Covid-19

The intelligence community is still divided over which of the two theories — whether the virus came from a lab leak or whether it jumped from animals to humans naturally — is likely correct, the intelligence community said. There is consensus among intelligence agencies that the two prevailing theories are plausible, according to the summary released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“All agencies judge that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and laboratory-related incident,” the intelligence community wrote.

The unclassified report, a two-page report, was released Friday by the intelligence community after Biden asked intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to determine how the Covid-19 pandemic began. Biden, who instructed them to release as much of the report as possible, was briefed on the investigation earlier this week.

“While this review has been completed, our efforts to understand the origins of this pandemic will not rest,” Biden said in a statement after the summary was released Friday. “We will do everything we can to trace the roots of this outbreak that has caused so much pain and death worldwide so that we can take all necessary precautions to prevent it from happening again.”

In the statement, Biden criticized China for not being more transparent in aiding the investigation, and the intelligence community said China’s cooperation would likely be needed to reach a more definitive conclusion.

“There is critical information about the origins of this pandemic in the People’s Republic of China, but from the outset, government officials in China have been working to prevent international researchers and members of the global public health community from accessing it,” Biden said.

While the study did not provide a conclusive assessment of the origin of the virus, it has disproved a number of theories. For example, the intelligence community ruled that Covid-19 was not developed as a biological weapon, as some Republicans suggested last year. The report says most agencies have assessed with little confidence that Covid-19 is also unlikely to be genetically engineered.

Agencies divided over origin theories

Four intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council have assessed with little confidence that Covid was likely caused by natural exposure to an animal, the summary said. However, one agency assessed with moderate confidence that the first human infection most likely resulted from a laboratory-associated incident that “probably involved experimentation, animal handling or sampling by the Wuhan Institute.”

And three agencies said they were unable to reconcile either statement without additional information.

The intelligence report says the virus likely originated and infected people through an initial small-scale exposure that happened no later than November 2019.

But the summary says the intelligence community would need more information from the early days of the pandemic to provide “a more definitive explanation for the origins of Covid-19”.

“The IC – and the global scientific community – does not have clinical samples or a full understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest Covid-19 cases,” the intelligence community wrote.

China’s unwillingness to cooperate hampered the intelligence community’s ability to get answers about the origin of the virus. “China’s cooperation would most likely be necessary to arrive at a conclusive assessment of the origins of Covid-19,” the intelligence community said. However, Beijing continues to hamper global research, resists information sharing and blames other countries, including the United States.

While the report blames China, it says Chinese officials “had no prior knowledge of the virus” before the initial outbreak.

Window to understand origin closes

Earlier this month, CNN reported: intelligence agencies were sifting through a wealth of genetic data from virus samples at the lab in Wuhan that some officials believe could be the source of the outbreak.

Officials told CNN this week that intelligence agencies switched sides last week whose theory was more likely.

Biden launched the assessment of the origins of Covid-19 earlier this year, amid growing calls for a deep dive after a US intelligence report found that several researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized.

Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said they want Biden to continue investigating the origins of the virus even after the 90-day review is complete.

However, the window to finding an answer to the origins of the pandemic may be blurring. A team of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization said Wednesday that the ability to figure out where the pandemic began is fading as people’s immune responses fade and any evidence in animals’ bodies disappears.

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