China has denounced US efforts to further investigate whether Covid-19 came from a Chinese lab.
US President Joe Biden has called on intelligence officials to “redouble” their work to find out how the virus was first transmitted to humans, reports BBC.
China’s foreign ministry accused the US of “political manipulation and blame shifting”.
It has rejected any link between Covid-19 and a virus research lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Covid-19 was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019. Since then, more than 168 million cases have been confirmed worldwide and about 3.5 million deaths reported.
Authorities linked early Covid cases to a seafood market in Wuhan, leading scientists to theorise that the virus had first passed to humans from animals.
ut recent US media reports have suggested growing evidence the virus could instead have emerged from a laboratory in China, perhaps through an accidental leak.
Why is this dispute happening now?
In a statement on Wednesday, President Biden said he had asked for a report on the origins of Covid-19 after taking office, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident”. On receiving it this month, he asked for “additional follow-up”.
Mr Biden said the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around those two scenarios, but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other”.
He said he had now asked agencies to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion”. The announcement angered Chinese officials.
What do we know about the lab theory?
Speculation about the Wuhan Institute of Virology – one of China’s top virus research labs – began last year and was propagated by Mr Trump.
US state department cables came to light in April 2020 that showed embassy officials were worried about biosecurity there.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report written jointly with Chinese scientists on the origins of Covid-19 which said the chances of it having started in a lab were “extremely unlikely”.
It said the virus had probably jumped from bats to humans via another intermediary animal, but that more research was needed.
A WHO spokesperson on Thursday reiterated to the BBC that further studies were needed “in a range of areas, including on the early detection of cases and clusters, and the potential roles of animal markets, transmission via the food chain and the laboratory incident hypothesis”.