White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said a review of the origins of COVID-19 would be finished on Tuesday, but it could take several more days before its long-awaited findings are declassified and made public.
President Joe Biden ordered the intelligence community to conduct the 90-day review in May, tasking them with assessing whether the pandemic began when the virus crossed into humans from animals or whether it leaked from a Chinese laboratory.
The question has taken on a deep political dimension, with senior Republicans accusing Beijing of a cover-up and demanding financial compensation.
Psaki confirmed that the review would be completed on time.
‘I would say that it will take it typically takes a couple of days, if not longer, to put together an unclassified version to present publicly and obviously the president would be briefed first on any findings so I don’t have an exact date for you but I would expect it will be several days … after tomorrow,’ she told reporters at the White House.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that a review of the origins of COVID-19 would be completed on Tuesday – in line with the president’s 90-day timetable, but it would take several days longer to be declassified for publication
President Biden announced the review on May 26. He said the inability of CDC inspectors to access key sites in China hampered early investigations as he asked the intelligence community to redouble efforts in investigating how COVID-19 emerged
Three members of staff Wuhan Institute of Virology were reported to have sought medical help for COVID-like symptoms in November 2019, adding to growing speculation that the virus escaped from the facility
At first, scientists were convinced that COVID-19 emerged naturally, crossing from an animal host to humans much like previous coronavirus outbreaks.
But this year a string of senior scientists admitted they may have leapt to conclusions.
At the same time, details emerged about how staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital treatment for COVID-like symptoms in November 2019.
The laboratory, close to where COVID-19 was first identified, had viewed in some quarters as a possible source of the virus.
It meant that the ‘lab leak hypothesis’ once consigned to fringe websites and decried by the media moved into the mainstream.
Announcing the review, Biden said intelligence agencies were divided on the two possible scenarios.
‘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, and to report back to me in 90 days,’ said Biden on May 26.
‘As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China.’
He directed national laboratories to assist with the investigation.
But he also said a final answer may never be found given the way that China refused to cooperate in the early days of an outbreak which has gone on to kill more than four million people around the world.
His statement marked a reversal for an administration that repeatedly expressed skepticism for the lab leak hypothesis.
In contrast, President Trump and his allies quickly pointed the finger at China as the pandemic spread.
In April last year, he said he had a ‘high degree of confidence’ that the novel coronavirus came from a lab and claimed to have seen evidence to support his certainty.
A string of other reports have raised further questions about the natural transfer theory.
Congressional Republicans recently concluded the coronavirus first leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan in September 2019, shortly after the Chinese research facility tried to improve air safety and waste treatment systems.
Their report also cited ‘ample evidence’ that scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology – aided by U.S. experts and Chinese and U.S. government funds – were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden.
Its authors cited a stream of open source information, including satellite imagery showing a surge in visitors to local hospitals, long before cases were reported emerging from a nearby market.
And it reports how scientific papers written by researchers prove the WIV was doing dangerous genetic modification research – so-called ‘gain of function’ experiments – in unsafe laboratories.
‘As we continue to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe it’s time to completely dismiss the wet market as the source of the outbreak,’ said Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as he released the report by the panel’s GOP staff.