US President Joe Biden has ordered his intelligence agencies to investigate the emergence of Covid-19, amid growing controversy about the virus’ origins.
Biden has asked US intelligence groups to “redouble their efforts” and report to him within 90 days.
Authorities linked early Covid cases to a seafood market in Wuhan, and scientists believed the virus first passed to humans from animals, but recent US media reports suggest there is growing evidence the virus could instead have emerged from a laboratory in China.
Beijing has condemned the reports and suggested it could have come from a US laboratory instead.
The global public may never know the full truth about the virus’ origins, particularly if China continues to be uncooperative, says the BBC.
Biden said the US would “keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence”.
If the US finds conclusive evidence of a lab leak, it could place very real strain on US-China relations for years to come.
In March this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report written jointly with Chinese scientists on the origins of Covid-19, saying the chances of it having started in a lab were “extremely unlikely”.
At the time, WHO acknowledged further study was needed.
Recent reports attributed to US intelligence sources say three members of the Wuhan Institute of Virology were admitted to hospital in November 2019, several weeks before China acknowledged the first case of the new disease in the community.
Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, has maintained he believes the virus was passed from animals to humans, though he conceded this month he was no longer confident Covid-19 had developed naturally.
Earlier this week, Xavier Becerra, US secretary for health and human services, urged the WHO to ensure a “transparent” investigation into the virus’s origins.
Becerra told the World Health Assembly, a conference organised by WHO, “The Covid-19 pandemic not only stole a year from our lives, it stole millions of lives.”