The US intelligence community confirmed Thursday that it is investigating whether the coronavirus that has infected more than 3 million people worldwide began in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a 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.”
The statement from the DNI, which oversees national security matters, confirms earlier reports that government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, have launched probes into whether the outbreak happened at the Wuhan lab.
President Trump has been highly critical of China’s lack of transparency since the initial coronavirus case was reported in Wuhan at the end of December.
Trump has accused the Chinese Communist Party of not accurately reporting the number of its cases and downplaying the severity of the outbreak in the first weeks leaving countries around the world flat-footed in making preparations to combat the rapidly spreading virus.
The president was asked at a White House coronavirus briefing earlier this month if he could confirm a report that COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan lab.
“Well I don’t wanna say that … but I will tell you that more and more we’re hearing the story and we’ll see. When you say multiple sources, now there’s a case when you can use the word ‘sources’, but we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened,” Trump said.
Speaking to reporters at the State Department on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said US officials still haven’t been allowed to inspect the lab.
“Look, we still haven’t gained access – the world hasn’t gained access to the WIV, the virology institute there,” he said, referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. “We don’t know precisely where this virus originated from. There are multiple labs that are continuing to conduct work, we think – continue on contagious pathogens inside of China today and we don’t know if they are operating at a level of security to prevent this from happening again.”
Asked about Pompeo’s comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said there’s no basis to his allegation that the virus emerged in the lab.
“There is no evidence to prove that the virus has traces of artificial synthesis. The claim of this virus being synthesized by the WIV is just baseless, because the WIV doesn’t have the capability to design and synthesize the virus, and it has never done so,” he told reporters on Thursday.