U.S. spy officials say coronavirus isn’t manmade but do not rule out lab accident
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the new coronavirus is “not manmade or genetically modified” but say they are still examining whether the origins of the pandemic can be traced to contact with infected animals or an accident at a Chinese lab.
The statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the clearinghouse for the web of U.S. spy agencies, comes as President Trump and his allies have touted the as-yet-unproved theory that an infectious-disease lab in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, was the source of the global pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 worldwide.
In recent days, the Trump administration has sharpened his rhetoric on China, accusing the geopolitical foe and vital trading partner of failing to act swiftly enough to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 or sound the alarm to the world about the outbreak.
“The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,” said the statement. “The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
Trump addressed the theory earlier this month, saying, “More and more, we’re hearing the story.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added, “The mere fact that we don’t know the answers — that China hasn’t shared the answers — I think is very, very telling.”
Pompeo also pressed China to let outside experts into the lab “so that we can determine precisely where this virus began.”
Scientists say the virus arose naturally in bats. Even so, Pompeo and others have pointed fingers at an institute that is run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It has done groundbreaking research tracing the likely origins of the SARS virus, finding new bat viruses and discovering how they can jump to people.
The new White House communications team is scrambling to keep Trump on TV but limit his ability to offer dangerous medical advice. The goal is to show him as a leader and push his reelection message. The problem is that Trump almost certainly will sabotage the plan.
“We know that there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was,” Pompeo said two weeks ago. The institute has an address eight miles from the market.
U.S. officials say the American Embassy in Beijing flagged concerns about potential safety issues at the lab in Wuhan in 2018 but have yet to find any evidence the virus originated there nearly two years later.
The Chinese government said Thursday that any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory were “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.
China is taking another step toward returning to business as normal by scheduling its most important political meeting of the year for late May.
“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue,” Geng said, “and it should be studied by scientists and professionals.”
Geng also criticized U.S. politicians who suggested China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”
But a Chinese government spokesman, Zhao Lijian, demonstrated that China was not above sowing confusion in the face of the pandemic. He tweeted in March that the virus might have come from the U.S. Army.
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