WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (Reuters) – US intelligence agencies said Friday they may never be able to identify the origin of COVID-19 as they released a new, more detailed version of their assessment of whether the coronavirus passed from animal to animal . human transfer or leaked from a lab.
The office of the United States Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said in a released report that a natural origin and a lab leak are both plausible hypotheses for how SARS-COV-2 first infected people. But analysts disagree on which is more likely and whether a final assessment can be made at all.
The report also rejected suggestions that the coronavirus originated as a bioweapon, saying proponents of this theory “don’t have direct access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology” and have been accused of spreading misinformation.
The report, released Friday, is an update of a 90-day assessment released by President Joe Biden’s administration in August amid intense political infighting over how much China should be blamed for the effects of the global pandemic instead. from governments that may not have acted quickly enough to protect civilians.
China responded Friday with criticism of the report.
“The way the US is relying on its intelligence apparatus rather than scientists to trace the origins of COVID-19 is a complete political farce,” Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said in an emailed statement. mail.
“…It will only undermine science-based research into its origin and hinder global efforts to find the source of the virus,” the statement said.
Former Republican President Donald Trump — who lost his re-election bid when the deadly pandemic devastated the US economy — and many of his supporters called COVID-19 the “China virus.”
Some US spy agencies strongly supported the explanation that the virus originated in nature. But there has been little confirmation and in recent months the virus has spread widely and naturally among wildlife.
The ODNI report said four US spy agencies and a multi-agency agency have “low confidence” that COVID-19 came from an infected animal or related virus.
But one agency said it had “moderate confidence” that the first human COVID-19 infection was most likely the result of a lab accident, likely involving experiments or animal handling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
US spy agencies believe they cannot provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 without new information showing that the virus followed a specific pathway from animals to humans or that a Wuhan lab handled the virus or a related virus before COVID-19 emerged.
The report said US agencies and the global scientific community lacked “clinical samples or a full understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases” and said it could revisit this inconclusive finding as more evidence emerges. comes.
China has come under international criticism for failing to cooperate more fully in investigations into the origins of COVID.
The embassy statement also rejected that criticism.
“We have supported science-based efforts to trace the origins and will continue to be actively involved. That said, we are firmly against attempts to politicize this issue,” it said.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Written by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Sonya Hepinstall
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