US spies admit they may never know if Covid leaked from Wuhan lab in new report

30 October 2021, 07:31 | Updated: 30 October 2021, 09:11

Biden ordered a 90-day review of intelligence work
Biden ordered a 90-day review of intelligence work. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

US spies think they may never know if Covid-19 leaked from a lab or spread to humans from an animal.

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President Joe Biden had ordered his intelligence community to run a 90-day review on the issue after Chinese resistance to cooperating fully with investigations.

A paper released by the US Director of National Intelligence said agencies remain divided on how the virus began spreading in people but they do not believe Covid was made as a bioweapon, and most think it was not genetically engineered.

Besides refusing to cooperate fully with investigations, China has also denied access to genetic sequences of coronavirus kept at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been subject to questions about its research and reported safety issues.

The lab-leak theory had initially been dismissed by experts but interest in investigating its possibility has grown.

China is a difficult place to carry out intelligence operations and it has fought against allegations it mishandled the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

Read more: G7 calls for Covid-19 origin study as Biden considers 'lab leak' theory

Read more: Joe Biden orders spies to "redouble" efforts to investigate if Covid escaped a lab

The full report into the intelligence work said four agencies had low confidence the virus was initially transmitted from an animal to a human while a fifth had moderate confidence the first human infection was linked to a lab.

It notes the Wuhan lab "previously created chimeras, or combinations, of SARS-like coronaviruses, but this information does not provide insight into whether SARS Cov-2 was genetically engineered by the WIV".

Information that researchers at the lab were seeking medical treatment for a respiratory illness in November 2019 "is not diagnostic of the pandemic's origins", the report said.

Bioweapon claims have been dismissed because their proponents do not have access to the lab, are making scientifically invalid claims or are accused of spreading disinformation, the report claimed.

It identified types of data that investigators still want China to provide access to.

This includes records and tissue samples from markets in Wuhan, such as the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, Qiyimen Live Animal Market, Dijiao Outdoor Pet Market and others.

Scientist had believed the virus emerged from animals sold at the Huanan market, but some have ruled that out.