Milestones :: Perspectives :: Research
We include the full text of the U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment, the associated White House statement, and the response by the Chinese Embassy in Washington. We assess that successful completion of a robust and transparent investigation of COVID-19 origins is critical to effective and coherent global response to the current pandemic as well as the effective functioning of the IHR for future pandemics, PHEICs, and health emergencies generally.
August 27, 2021
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) today released an unclassified summary of the Intelligence Community assessment on COVID-19 origins:
Key Takeaways [Editor’s text bolding]
The IC assesses that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, 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. In addition, the IC was able to reach broad agreement on several other key issues. We
judge the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. Most agencies also assess 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. Finally, the IC assesses China’s officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.
After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information, though, the IC
remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19. All agencies assess that two hypotheses
are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.
:: Four IC elements and the National Intelligence Council assess with low confidence that the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection was most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus—a virus that probably would be more than 99 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2. These analysts give weight to China’s officials’ lack of foreknowledge, the numerous vectors for natural exposure, and other factors.
:: One IC element assesses 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.
:: Analysts at three IC elements remain unable to coalesce around either explanation without additional information, with some analysts favoring natural origin, others a laboratory origin, and some seeing the hypotheses as equally likely.
:: Variations in analytic views largely stem from differences in how agencies weigh intelligence reporting and scientific publications, and intelligence and scientific gaps.
The IC judges they will be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of
COVID-19 unless new information allows them to determine the specific pathway for initial
natural contact with an animal or to determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARS-
CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged.
:: The IC—and the global scientific community—lacks clinical samples or a complete
understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases. If we
obtain information on the earliest cases that identified a location of interest or
occupational exposure, it may alter our evaluation of hypotheses.
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. These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.
Statement by President Joe Biden on the Investigation into the Origins of COVID-19
August 27, 2021 :: Statements and Releases
This week, I received the report on the 90-day sprint I asked our intelligence community to conduct into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am grateful for the thorough, careful, and objective work of our intelligence professionals, and while this review has concluded, our efforts to understand the origins of this pandemic will not rest. We will do everything we can to trace the roots of this outbreak that has caused so much pain and death around the world, so that we can take every necessary precaution to prevent it from happening again.
Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it. To this day, the PRC continues to reject calls for transparency and withhold information, even as the toll of this pandemic continue to rise. We needed this information rapidly, from the PRC, while the pandemic was still new. Since taking office, my administration has renewed U.S. leadership in the World Health Organization and rallied allies and partners to renew focus on this critical question. The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them. Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world. Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.
The United States will continue working with like-minded partners around the world to press the PRC to fully share information and to cooperate with the World Health Organization’s Phase II evidence-based, expert-led determination into the origins of COVID-19 – including by providing access to all relevant data and evidence. We will also continue to press the PRC to adhere to scientific norms and standards, including sharing information and data from the earliest days of the pandemic, protocols related to biosafety, and information from animal populations. We must have a full and transparent accounting of this global tragedy. Nothing less is acceptable.
Statement by the Chinese Embassy in the United States on the “COVID-19 Origin-Tracing” Report of the U.S. Side
On August 27, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the United States released a summary of the intelligence community assessment on COVID-19 origins, which does not rule out either natural exposure or laboratory accident as the origin of SARS-CoV-2. The report wrongly claims that China “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries”. The statement by the White House issued on the same day also purported that China tries to hold back international investigation and rejects calls for transparency. It urges like-minded partners to exert pressure on China. The Chinese side expresses its firm opposition and strong condemnation to this.
First, a report fabricated by the U.S. intelligence community is not scientifically credible. The origin-tracing is a matter of science; it should and can only be left to scientists, not intelligence experts. There has been no lack of “masterpieces” by the U.S. intelligence community, such as using a tube of laundry powder to convict Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction, or staging the “white helmets” video as evidence for chemical weapon attack in Syria. Now, the US side is using its old trick again. Ignoring the Report by the WHO-China joint mission, it chooses to have its intelligence community put together a report instead. How can this possibly be science-based and reliable origin-tracing?
Second, the assertion of lack of transparency on the part of China is only an excuse for its politicizing and stigmatizing campaign. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has taken an open, transparent and responsible attitude. We have released information, shared the genome sequencing of the virus, and carried out international cooperation to fight the disease, all done at the earliest possible time. On December 27, 2019, Wuhan authorities made the first reporting of suspected cases. On December 30, emergency notices were issued on the treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause. On December 31, China informed the WHO China Country Office of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan. On January 3, 2020, China began sending regular updates about the novel coronavirus to the WHO and other countries, including the United States. On origin-tracing, China has followed a science-based, professional, serious and responsible approach. We are the first to cooperate with the WHO on global origin-tracing, and we have invited WHO experts to conduct the investigations twice in China. We were completely open, transparent and cooperative when the experts were in China. They visited every site on their list, met every individual they asked for, and were provided with all the data they wanted. The formulation of the Report of the WHO-China joint mission issued on March 30, 2021 follows WHO procedures and adopts a scientific approach. It is authoritative and science-based. The openness and transparency China has displayed has won full recognition from international experts.
Third, the report by the U.S. intelligence community shows that the U.S. is bent on going down the wrong path of political manipulation. The U.S. has registered the most infections and death cases from COVID-19 in the world, and the American people have paid a heavy price. The report by the intelligence community is based on presumption of guilt on the part of China, and it is only for scapegoating China. Such a practice will only disturb and sabotage international cooperation on origin-tracing and on fighting the pandemic, and has been widely opposed by the international community. Over 300 political parties, social organizations and think tanks from more than 100 countries and regions have submitted a joint statement to the WHO Secretariat, firmly opposing politicization of origin-tracing. Doesn’t the U.S. side feel it necessary to listen to what they have to say?
Finally, the U.S. has been shying away from tracing the origin in the United States and closing the door on any such possibility. If the US.. side is “transparent and responsible”, it should make public and examine the data of its early cases. The timeline of the outbreak in the United States has been revised to earlier dates several times. In at least five American states, there had been infections before the first confirmed case in the U.S. was announced. According to a latest coverage from American media, the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. was in early January 2020, several weeks earlier than previously announced by the authorities, which was early February.
In addition, Wuhan Institute of Virology has received two visits from WHO experts and the WHO-China joint study report has reached the clear conclusion that introduction through a lab accident in Wuhan is “extremely unlikely”. If the US insists on the lab leak theory, isn’t it necessary for the U.S. side to invite WHO experts to Fort Detrick and the University of North Carolina (UNC) for investigation? Fort Detrick has long been engaged in coronavirus research and modification. After its shutdown in 2019 because of serious safety incidents, disease with symptoms similar to COVID-19 broke out in the U.S. The team of Professor Ralph Baric in the UNC possesses extremely mature capability in synthesizing and modifying coronavirus. From January 2015 to June 2020, the UNC reported to the National Institutes of Health 28 lab incidents involving genetically engineered organisms. Six of them involved coronaviruses including SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2. However, instead of finding out what happened in its own labs first, the U.S. keeps slinging mud at others.
China’s position on global origin-tracing is consistent and clear. This is a matter of science. China always supports and will continue to participate in science-based origin-tracing. What we are against is political manipulation, presumption of guilt and putting blame on others. Any Phase II origins study must be a comprehensive extension of Phase I and conducted in multiple places and countries to find out the truth.
The report by the U.S. intelligence community has not produced an exact answer the U.S. side wants. Continuing such an effort will also be in vain, because its subject is simply non-existent and anti-science.
Volume 596 Issue 7873, 26 August 2021
Comment | 25 August 2021
Origins of SARS-CoV-2: window is closing for key scientific studies
Authors of the March WHO report into how COVID-19 emerged warn that further delay makes crucial inquiry biologically difficult.
Marion Koopmans, Peter Daszak, John Watson
Our group was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) in October 2020. We have been the designated independent international members of a joint WHO–China team tasked with understanding the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Our report was published this March1. It was meant to be the first step in a process that has stalled. Here we summarize the scientific process so far, and call for action to fast-track the follow-up scientific work required to identify how COVID-19 emerged, which we set out in this article.
The window of opportunity for conducting this crucial inquiry is closing fast: any delay will render some of the studies biologically impossible. Understanding the origins of a devastating pandemic is a global priority, grounded in science…
WHO: Call for experts to join Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens
20 August 2021 News release
Issued on: 20 August Deadline: 10 September
The World Health Organization (WHO) today issued an open call for experts to serve as members of the new WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).
The SAGO will advise WHO on technical and scientific considerations regarding the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens of epidemic and pandemic potential, and will be composed of a wide range of experts acting in their personal capacity. SAGO will also guide WHO on next steps for understanding the SARS-CoV-2 origins…