USA orders Covid origin probe as lab leak theory debated

Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization team

The Republican report asserted that "significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the Covid-19 outbreak may have been a leak" from the institute, suggested the Wuhan lab was involved in biological weapons research, and that Beijing had attempted to "cover up" the virus' origins.

Earlier on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration supports a new World Health Organization (WHO) investigation in China. The investigators, who spent almost a month in China, ruled that a lab accident was "extremely unlikely".

Chinese officials have emphasized research showing evidence of coronavirus infections outside China in late 2019 and pointed to frozen food imports as a possible vector. "And people who are in charge of that lab, and who set in motion this virus, need to be held accountable in some fashion to deter this in the future". Did they have viruses that were potential ancestor of SARS-CoV-2? The team's 40-page report devoted just three pages to the lab-leak hypothesis, and members of the mission have said they were not qualified or able to conduct a thorough investigation of the hypothesis.

"How could it have leaked from our lab when we never had it?" she said.

Eminent Harvard epidemiologist Prof Marc Lipsitch said: "Lab escape scenario remains plausible enough that it should be looked into rigorously, along with the various natural routes that could have been the origin".

Zhao pointed out that the goal of origin-tracing is to improve human's understanding of the virus and better guard against infectious diseases in the future.

China wholly rejects the theory the virus may have emerged from a virology lab in Wuhan and has instead accused the US of peddling conspiracies and politicizing the pandemic to divert attention from the high death rates there.

US politicians from both parties are agitating for answers.

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China has always upheld a responsible, cooperative, transparent attitude to the origin-tracing work.

'The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based worldwide investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence, ' he said.

Zhao urged the US and other relevant countries to cooperate with the World Health Organization in a scientific, open and transparent manner.

"If the USA side truly demands a completely transparent investigation, it should follow China's lead to invite the WHO experts to the US, open Fort Detrick and bio-labs overseas to the rest of the world, and disclose the detailed data and information on the unexplained outbreaks of respiratory disease in northern Virginia in July, 2019 and the EVALI outbreak in Wisconsin".

The move follows growing calls in the US and around the world for China to be more open about the beginnings of the pandemic.

As part of today's Senate appropriations hearing on the 2022 budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), agency Director Francis Collins and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci were asked for their thoughts on the origins of COVID-19.

Koopmans told the Global Times that such studies "should be a combination of studies that start where the WHO-China joint team left off, so that means studies in China and outside of China", the Global Times reported. He has asked for a new report to be filed in 90 days looking further into the origins of the virus that has killed at least 590,000 Americans and almost 3.5 million people worldwide.

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