A new U.S. government assessment says that Covid likely originated from a lab leak in China. It has ignited yet another round of political furor around the issue.
The virus that drove the Covid pandemic most likely emerged from a laboratory leak but not as part of a weapons program, according to an updated and classified 2021 U.S. energy department study provided to the White House and senior American lawmakers.
The conclusion from the energy department would be significant despite the fact that, as the report said, the agency made its updated judgment with “low confidence”.
The department’s finding marks a departure from previous studies on how the virus emerged.
Conflicting hypotheses on the origins of Covid have centered either on an unidentified animal transmitting the virus to humans or its accidental leak from a Chinese research laboratory in Wuhan.
The report has added to many Republicans’ anger over how the pandemic was handled even as many scientists remain convinced the virus most likely originated naturally.
Even though U.S. intelligence agencies are divided on which direction the evidence points, some prominent members of the GOP are already seizing on the news as evidence that they were right all along.
But the implications of the virus’ origins go well beyond politics.
The report could threaten what’s already an increasingly tense U.S.-China relationship.
The energy department’s updated findings run counter to reports by four other US intelligence agencies that concluded the epidemic started as the result of natural transmission from an infected animal. Two agencies remain undecided.
Chinese officials have disputed that Covid could have leaked from its labs, among them the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pushed back against the claim when asked about the reported assessment during a regular briefing.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the intelligence community remains divided on the matter while noting that President Joe Biden has put resources into getting to the bottom of the origin question.