Joe Biden calls for further probe into origins of coronavirus pandemic, urges transparency from China

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday the United States is going to look further into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and urged China to be transparent in the investigation.

Biden, in a statement, said that an investigation by the US intelligence community “has not reached a definitive conclusion on” whether the virus “emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident”. He has requested further analysis, which will be assisted by US national laboratories and other agencies, to be completed in 90 days.

“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,” Biden said, stressing that he has asked the investigators about areas of further inquiry, including specific questions for China.

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The president’s call adds more pressure to the World Health Organization (WHO) as the UN body has its annual meeting of its member countries this week. The gathering is the first since the group made a verdict in March after its investigation into the virus origins that said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked from a lab.

A number of member countries including the US, Britain and Japan had said then the findings were flawed by a lack of transparency and independence from the Chinese government.

A call for a second phase of investigation has been mounting by these member countries, arguing that a further probe is necessary to get a better understanding of the virus that caused a global pandemic that has claimed about 3.5 million lives worldwide and nearly 600,000 in the US.

In the US, the consensus among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle has been building, following The Wall Street Journal report on Sunday about three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who were hospitalised just before the outbreak was confirmed in China.

Balancing act for WHO on next phase of research into virus origins

Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser on the Covid-19 response, called the inquiry a “critical priority” on Tuesday.

“We need a completely transparent process from China; we need the WHO to assist in that matter,” Slavitt said. “We don’t feel like we have that now.”

Wuhan Institute of Virology is seen behind a fence during the visit by the World Health Organization team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease in Wuhan, China on February 3. Photo: Reuters

On Wednesday, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that “since there’s a lot of concern, a lot of speculation and since no one absolutely knows that, I believe we do need the kind of investigation where there’s open transparency and all the information that’s available, to be made available, to scrutinise,” at a Senate hearing.

China said on Wednesday that the next investigation should look at the US instead.

“Some people in the United States claim they want the truth, but their real intention is political manipulation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

“Whenever they bring up the pandemic, they smear and attack China, and they have completely ignored their own failure to contain the outbreak and the many questions raised about the [possibility that the virus originated] on their soil,” he said.

Zhao suggested that a biomedical research laboratory at the Fort Detrick military base in Maryland be investigated.

China hits out at US calls for further probe into coronavirus origins

In Wednesday’s statement, Biden said the origins of the virus may never be understood fully because the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention did not get early access to China when the virus first emerged.

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

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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