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Monday, September 27, 2021

Explained: What has the US assessment on the origins of Covid-19 concluded?

This assessment is a result of US President Joe Biden ordering the intelligence community to take a closer look into the origin of the virus. Biden gave the community a period of 90 days to work on this.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 31, 2021 10:08:46 am
Nurses treat a COVID-19 patient in Santa Monica, Calif., July 27, 2021. Among Americans under age 50, average daily hospital admissions have hit a pandemic high, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Photo: The New York Times)

On Friday, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a summary of assessment on the possible origins of Covid-19, which says that the virus “probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure that occurred no later than November 2019 with the first known cluster of Covid-19 cases arising in Wuhan, China in December 2019”.

This assessment is a result of US President Joe Biden ordering the intelligence community to take a closer look into the origin of the virus. Biden gave the community a period of 90 days to work on this.

What the assessment has said

Several US intelligence agencies were involved in probing the origins of the virus in the last 90 days and broadly, they remain divided on the most likely origin of the virus.

Even so, the assessment has conclusively said that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. Further, it says that most agencies have assessed but with low confidence that “SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered”.

“…however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way.” The assessment also says that the intelligence agencies have concluded that Chinese officials did not have prior knowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of the disease in 2019.

One of the intelligence agencies has said with moderate confidence that “the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was the result of a laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. These analysts give weight to the inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses,” the assessment notes.

The report also states that China continues to “hinder” the global investigations being carried out to find out the origins of the virus. “China’s cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19. Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States,” the assessment said.

Attempts being made to find out how the virus originated and the significance of such a study

Earlier this year, a team from the WHO visited China to find clues about the origin of Covid-19, but the results from their field visit were largely inconclusive because of which the findings of the mission were criticised by the rest of the world barring China, where they were applauded.

The mission, however, concluded definitively that it was “extremely unlikely” that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in a Chinese laboratory. The lab leak theory was emphasised by the erstwhile Trump administration multiple times.

An objective look into the origins of the virus is important to prevent similar situations from arising again.

But scientists fear that such enquiries need to be made sooner rather than later because the longer it takes to carry out this assessment, the less accurate the information will be.

The authors of the WHO report that was published in March wrote in a comment published in the journal Nature this week that the window of opportunity for conducting this inquiry is closing because as more time passes, some studies will be biologically impossible to conduct.

What is China’s stance on the origin of the virus?

China is on the defensive and the country’s media has even suggested that the virus was imported into the country from elsewhere, probably through frozen food packages. On Friday, the Global Times, the tabloid that is published by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), reported that a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson listed seven reasons for the US to invite the WHO for an investigation into the origins of the virus.

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The report says that the investigations should be carried out to probe the vaping-related lung disease patients in 2019, who apparently had symptoms similar to Covid-19. There is also “evidence of infection in five states which appeared back in December 2019 and 12 countries claiming their Covid-19 “patient zero” was imported from the US,” it says.

Another report published in the Global Times on Friday says that the failure of US intelligence to conclude a particular origin theory is “hardly surprising”. It goes on to say that the source of the lab leak theory came from “‘science enthusiasts’ based in the Indian state of West Bengal that used Internet search and translation software to fabricate stories”.

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