The Biden administration took one giant step closer to admitting that the coronavirus was leaked from a Chinese lab, a theory once derided as fanciful fiction.
An increasing number of senior administration officials engaged in a probe of the virus are now backing the theory that the virus could have emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to a CNN report.
Although officials still remain divided on whether the virus emerged from nature, passing from animals to humans, the acknowledgment marks a shift from the scorn that was heaped on former President Trump and a group of European scientists who first brought up the lab-leak theory during the height of the pandemic last year.
The virus has infected nearly 190 million people around the world and resulted in more than 3.5 million deaths, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The World Health Organization’s director general also engaged in an about-face this week when he acknowledged that the virus could have leaked from a lab. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus now wants China to be “transparent, open and cooperate” and hand over the “raw data” that the WHO asked for at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.
Tedros told reporters Thursday that there had been “a premature push” to rule out the theory that the virus could have escaped from the government virology lab in Wuhan. He contradicted his own statements in February following a WHO mission to China that concluded that a leak from the lab was “extremely unlikely.”
“I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,” Tedros said. “It’s common.”
In May, Biden ordered intelligence officials to conduct a 90-day probe of the origins of COVID-19, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.”
In April 2020, US State Department cables showed that US diplomats were worried about a lab leak at China’s premier virus research lab in Wuhan. Among other things, the cables showed that US scientists were sent on multiple visits to the Chinese lab. The cable also say that the scientists were worried that any leaks from the lab could result in a new SARS-like pandemic.
China has long rejected the notion that there could have been a lab leak, maintaining that since the virus was first detected in Wuhan in 2019, it was quickly passed from bats to humans via another species.
Biden administration officials have been putting diplomatic pressure on China to allow investigators open access to the data that Chinese scientists collected in the early days of the pandemic, according to a White House briefing to reporters shortly after Biden announced the new probe in May.