Biden calls for new US report on COVID-19 origins within 90 days

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Washington: President Joe Biden has asked US intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the possibility that the origins of the virus trace to a Chinese lab.

After months of minimising the possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is responding both to domestic and geopolitical concerns about putting pressure on China to be transparent about the outbreak.

US President Joe Biden has called for the report to be delivered within 90 days.Credit:AP

Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident, rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal.

Biden in a statement said the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around those two likely scenarios but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other”. He revealed that two of the 18 intelligence agencies lean toward the animal link and “one leans more toward” the lab theory, adding, “each with low or moderate confidence”.

Biden directed US national laboratories to assist with the investigation and called on China to co-operate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.

He asked intelligence officials to report back to him in 90 days on the results of their work.

“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a day earlier that the White House supported a new World Health Organisation investigation in China, but added it “would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins”.

Biden, for his part, held out the possibility that a firm conclusion may never be known, given the Chinese government’s refusal to fully co-operate with international investigations.

“The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” he added.

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