Joe Biden has asked US intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, amid renewed questions over the role a laboratory in China might have played.
The US president said on Wednesday that he had asked his officials to deliver within 90 days their conclusions on how the Sars-Cov-2 virus first spread to humans.
Biden said in a statement: “As of today, the US intelligence community has coalesced around two likely scenarios, but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question.
“I have now asked the intelligence community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion and to report back to me in 90 days.”
A team of scientists from the World Health Organization concluded last year that it was highly unlikely the disease had escaped from the Wuhan lab, though the WHO later admitted that its investigation, which was facilitated by Beijing, had left some questions unresolved.
Biden added that he would work with allies to press China to co-operate more fully with an international investigation into how the pandemic started.
Some in the Trump administration had argued that the virus first infected humans involved in experimenting on coronaviruses at the Wuhan institute, China’s highest-level biosafety lab.
The Chinese government and the institute have both denied that theory, and many scientists argue animal-human transmission is a more likely explanation.
But questions over the institute’s role resurfaced over the weekend after a report in the Wall Street Journal said that US intelligence agencies had concluded three researchers from the WIV fell ill with the disease in November 2019, a month before the first official case was reported.
Andy Slavitt, one of Biden’s pandemic advisers, on Tuesday reiterated the US’s demand for a more comprehensive international investigation.
That demand prompted an angry response from China, where state media described the lab leak hypothesis as “a conspiracy created by US intelligence agencies”.