China rejects US report on COVID originating in Wuhan lab

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The Chinese Embassy in the US has voiced strong opposition to a newly released US intelligence report on the origins of COVID-19, which says natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident are both plausible.

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China's embassy in Washington issued a statement saying the report “wrongly” claimed that China continued to hinder the investigation and added that “a report fabricated by the US intelligence community is not scientifically credible.”

“The origin-tracing is a matter of science; it should and can only be left to scientists, not intelligence experts,” it said.

It also said the report shows the US is bent on going down the wrong path of political manipulation. The embassy says the US has been shying away from tracing COVID-19 origins in the US, and it should make public and investigate its early cases if it wants to be transparent and responsible.

The embassy charged that the report was aimed at “scapegoating China,” an approach that would “disturb and sabotage international cooperation on origin-tracing and on fighting the pandemic.”

The statement also charged that Washington “has been shying away from tracing the origin in the US and closing the door on any such possibility.”

China has ridiculed a theory that coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 infections emerged in late 2019, setting off the pandemic, and has pushed fringe theories including that it slipped out of a lab at the US Army's Fort Detrick base in Maryland in 2019.

The embassy statement suggested the US should invite World Health Organization experts to Fort Detrick to investigate.

The US report revealed new details about the extent of the disagreement within the Biden administration over the lab-leak theory.

Several organizations within the sprawling US intelligence community thought the novel coronavirus emerged from “natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus,” according to the summary.

But they had only “low confidence” in that conclusion, it said. Other groups were not able to come to any firm opinion at all on the origins.

One intelligence community segment, however, developed “moderate confidence” the first human infection with COVID-19 was likely due to a “laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

A WHO-led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan in January and February dismissed that theory. But their March report, which was written jointly with Chinese scientists, has been faulted for using insufficient evidence in doing so.

The new US report concluded that analysts would not be able to provide “a more definitive explanation” without new information from China, such as clinical samples and epidemiological data about the earliest cases.

Initially, US spy agencies strongly favored the explanation that the virus originated in nature. But people familiar with intelligence reporting have said there has been little corroboration over recent months the virus had spread widely and naturally among wild animals.

“While this review has concluded, our efforts to understand the origins of this pandemic will not rest,” Biden said. “We will do everything we can to trace the roots of this outbreak that has caused so much pain and death around the world, so that we can take every necessary precaution to prevent it from happening again.”

The WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said the group has not ruled out any hypothesis. The Geneva-based organization is set to impanel a new committee to develop next steps on studying the virus SARS-CoV-2.

But epidemiological experts said the window was closing for any useful data to be collected, particularly from people infected by the disease in 2019, when the virus likely first emerged.

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