The assessment comes after Republicans accused the government of withholding key information on the pandemic
US intelligence officials have released a report evaluating whether the coronavirus outbreak emerged from a Chinese virology lab in late 2019, challenging a theory still embraced by other federal agencies.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published the review on Friday, after investigating “potential links” between the Covid-19 pandemic and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) located in central China.
The report noted that both a lab-related incident and natural exposure to the virus remained “plausible hypotheses” to explain the health crisis, adding that the US Department of Energy and FBI continue to believe the first human infection occurred as the result of a laboratory accident.
However, the National Intelligence Council and four other intel agencies have concluded that human contact with an infected animal was the “most likely” cause of the pandemic, a stance bolstered by the latest ODNI report.
After reviewing the known capabilities of the Wuhan facility and the actions of its personnel in the lead-up to the outbreak, the office found “no indication that the WIV’s pre-pandemic research holdings included SARSCoV-2 or a close progenitor,” nor any direct evidence that “a specific research-related incident occurred involving WIV personnel before the pandemic that could have caused the Covid pandemic.”
While the report acknowledged that some WIV personnel “probably did not use adequate biosafety precautions at least some of the time,” including while handling “SARS-like coronaviruses,” it said officials were unable to identify any particular accident that might explain the global health crisis. Nonetheless, it said it could not definitively rule out the possibility of a lab leak.
The ODNI was forced to publish the document under a law signed in March, which directed the government to declassify material related to the genesis of the global health crisis. The legislation passed with strong Republican support, after several GOP lawmakers accused President Joe Biden of stonewalling key information.
China has repeatedly denied claims that the virus escaped from the biosafety level 4 lab – which stores the most lethal pathogens under strict security protocols – rejecting the theory as a way to smear China’s image abroad. Foreign Ministry officials have accused Washington of “spreading myths” about the pandemic, and previously called on the World Health Organization to launch a new origins probe in the US mirroring similar investigations conducted in China.