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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden said Wednesday he has directed the US intelligence community to redouble their efforts in investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and report back to him in 90 days.
The announcement comes after a US intelligence report found several researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized — a new detail that fueled fresh public pressure on Biden to delve deeper into the origin of the virus.
"As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China. I have also asked that this effort include work by our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community's efforts. And I have asked the Intelligence Community to keep Congress fully apprised of its work," Biden said in a statement.
The president said: "The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19."
Biden said in the statement that in March he directed his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, to task the intelligence community with preparing a report on the most up-to-date analysis of the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, including whether the virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident. Biden said he received that report earlier this month and asked for additional follow-up.
"As of today, the US Intelligence Community has 'coalesced around two likely scenarios' but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question. Here is their current position: 'while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter — each with low or moderate confidence — the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other,'" Biden said in the statement.
A series of factors went into Biden's decision to task his intelligence community with a deeper dive into the origins of COVID-19, including the thinking that the initial March-ordered report didn't go far enough in delving into the issue, according to a source familiar with the decision.
Biden viewed Wednesday's statement, and additional review, as in the compelling public interest given the scale of the devastation wrought by the pandemic, the source said.
There was also clear public pressure on the administration to address the issue after recent reports on new information that underscored the plausibility of the lab theory, as well as new comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci — Biden's chief medical adviser — that acknowledged he and other scientists may have been too definitive in previous public statements dismissing that possibility.
Pressure has heightened from Congress as well.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on Wednesday, called for "clear answers" from the intelligence community on the origins of coronavirus and said her panel would explore any additional options it could take.
Also on Wednesday, legislation backed by Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Braun of Indiana passed by unanimous consent requiring the Biden administration, specifically Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, to declassify any intelligence relating to links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, Haines testified that US intelligence agencies still do not know "exactly where, when or how COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially" in China but remain focused on two primary theories, that "it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident."
Biden said the US would work with allies to continue to press China "to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence." — CNN
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