President Joe Biden on Wednesday directed intelligence agencies to redouble their efforts in investigating the origins of COVID-19 after recent reports have given more credibility to the theory that the virus could have leaked from a virology lab in China.
In a statement on Wednesday, Biden asked the intelligence community to collect more information regarding the virus’s origins and send a new report to his desk within 90 days.
Biden’s statement comes days after the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. intelligence reports indicate that three researchers at Wuhan’s Institute of Virology were sickened in November 2019 and needed to be hospitalized. That report has since been confirmed by several media outlets, including CNN and NBC News.
While the intelligence report did not indicate what the researchers were sick with, it’s a piece of circumstantial evidence that points to the theory that the virus may have originated in a lab.
Health experts have also speculated that the virus may have jumped from an animal, such as a bat, to a second species before it was passed on to humans at one of the region’s wet markets. Others speculate that the virus jumped directly from bats to humans.
According to Biden’s statement, two elements in the intelligence community lean toward the theory that the virus developed through contact with animals, and one leans more toward the theory that it was developed in a lab. However, as a whole, the intelligence community agrees that there is not enough evidence to determine COVID-19’s origins.
At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, testified that the origins of the virus remain unknown.
“I think the most likely reason or mechanism by which SARS-CoV-2 arose was a natural process of transfer from an animal to humans, but it is certainly possible that other options might have occurred, including a possible lab leak,” Collins said. “We just don’t have evidence to be able to say what that likelihood is.”
In a briefing earlier this week, press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was calling on China to be more open and transparent regarding investigations into the origins of the virus.
In February, a team of researchers with the World Health Organization said it believed that the virus jumped to humans through contact with animals and that it was “unlikely” it originated in a lab.
While WHO researchers on that team said they “enjoyed a greater level of openness than they had anticipated,” the Associated Press reported that the Chinese government attempted to put limits on the team’s research and blocked the group from speaking to reporters.