American President Joe Biden has ordered the U.S. intelligence community to amplify their investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and report back in 90 days. This investigation will focus on proving whether or not COVID-19 originated from a lab in Wuhan, China instead of naturally. President Biden previously dismissed the theory of the virus coming from a lab as a fringe theory. Now, his administration has joined the worldwide pressure on China to be more open about the outbreak. This is because an American intelligence report found several researchers at Wuhan’s Institute of Virology became sick in November 2019 and then hospitalized. While the intelligence community unsure what researchers were sick with, mounting pressure from Congress may have influenced the change.
Patty Murray, Democratic Senator, and chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, asked for “clear answers” from the intelligence community about the origins of COVID-19. The GOP has also been complaining the president has not been tough enough on China. Republican Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Braun of Indiana unanimously passed legislation declassifying intelligence associated with links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response, China has accused the Biden administration of ‘playing politics and shirking its responsibility’ by calling for a re-investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zhao Lijian, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said that Biden’s order shows America “does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing.”
The Chinese Embassy in Washington accused the Biden administration of focusing on a blame game instead of combatting the pandemic. “[S]mear campaign and blame shifting are making a comeback, and the conspiracy theory of “lab leak” is resurfacing,” they said in an online statement. China’s government has also questioned the Biden administration’s motives, and harkened back to America’s “notorious track record” in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, said, “[W]e have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do.” However, he did concede “all hypotheses remain on the table.”
It is unclear if spending more time and money on exploring the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic will be fruitful. There is limited evidence that it is even possible to find the origin anymore, as much time has passed since the first reported cases. Further, it is disputed when the first reported cases even are. While uncovering the true origin of the COVID-19 pandemic may be helpful for epidemiologists, this is not guaranteed. The only guarantee is souring China’s relationship with the countries pushing for further investigations, which would have a global impact.
The reason for the change in the Biden administration seems to be more bucking to Congressional and public pressure than evidence. Therefore, previously President Biden has shut down the State Department investigation, which is separate from the intelligence community’s investigation. However, there is no definitive proof for the natural origin theory either. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser said, “the most likely scenario is that this was a natural occurrence, but no one knows that 100 per cent for sure.” Since the beginning of 2020, scientists have not found COVID-19 in bats or any other animal matching the genetic make-up of the virus.
President Biden said there is a possibility that a firm conclusion on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic will never be reached. However, this has not abated the push for China to cooperate. This may have unforeseen consequences if China feels threatened or backed into a corner. With America and Australia having an important trade relationship with China, political posturing against China will not end well for either country even if it does win some political points domestically. There should be a push for greater transparency but it should not be to ‘get to the bottom … whatever the answer may be’ as Andy Slavitt, President Biden’s senior adviser for COVID-19 has said. Instead, diplomacy should be used and this will ensure greater relations for future issues which need a concerted international effort.
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