[guest post by Dana]
[Ed. Really pressed for time, just throwing this up here now as a convo starter.]
Today from President Biden:
Back in early 2020, when COVID-19 emerged, I called for the CDC to get access to China to learn about the virus so we could fight it more effectively. The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19.
Nevertheless, shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident. I received that report earlier this month, and asked for additional follow-up. As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has “coalesced around two likely scenarios” but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question. Here is their current position: “while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”
I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days. As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China. I have also asked that this effort include work by our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts. And I have asked the Intelligence Community to keep Congress fully apprised of its 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 international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence.
Yesterday China said that the case was closed as far as their country was concerned:
The U.S. and China staked out sharply opposing positions over how to trace the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, with Washington calling for a new round of studies to be conducted with independent, international experts.
Beijing, meanwhile, told an annual gathering of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body Tuesday that it considered the investigation in its country to be complete and said attention should now turn to other countries.
The dueling opinions, expressed during a meeting of nearly 200 governments, appear hard to reconcile and show the political tensions hindering an effort to find the source of a virus that first began to spread in China. Under global health regulations, China would have to give its consent for WHO to send international scientists into the country again for further studies.
Lack of cooperation from China, however, presents a bit of a hurdle for the WHO:
Earlier this year, a team of scientists convened by the WHO spent a month in China, as part of an effort to understand the origins of the pandemic.
A deeper inquiry into the pandemic’s origins is “a critical priority for us,” Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for the Covid-19 response, said at a briefing Tuesday. “We need to get to the bottom of this and we need a completely transparent process from China [Oh. Okay.] We need the WHO to assist in that matter. We don’t feel like we have that now.”
But those efforts are up against a push by China to have the WHO shift that probe into other countries, contending that the pandemic may have originated elsewhere.
“Nothing can happen unless China says yes,” said Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “The WHO has no power under international law to require China to comply. “
He added, “Given the relationship between China and the U.S., there’s a negligible chance that the Chinese would capitulate to U.S. requests for a full and independent investigation.”
P.S. “Currently, [in] the WHO-convened origins tracing study, China’s part has been completed,” a Chinese delegate told diplomats during a videoconference meeting on Tuesday. “China supports the scientists to conduct a global origin tracing cooperation. We call on all parties to adopt an open and transparent attitude to cooperate with the WHO in origins tracing.”