Scientists React to COVID Origin Investigation Ordered by Joe Biden

The scientific community has reacted to calls for additional investigation into the origins of COVID-19, including by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Yesterday, Biden announced he had told the U.S. Intelligence Community to produce a report within 90 days on information that "could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion" on where the virus had come from.

There has been speculation the virus could have leaked from a laboratory, though the World Health Organization's (WHO) own report deemed this scenario to be "extremely unlikely."

On Wednesday, Biden said the U.S. Intelligence Community had separately investigated the origins of COVID-19 and had identified "two likely scenarios" without elaborating further.

He added the community had come to the conclusion that "the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other."

And last week a U.S. intelligence report emerged claiming three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had fallen ill in November 2019 and sought hospital care, according to The Wall Street Journal, fuelling the issue.

However, some scientists have said that calls for more investigation will cause international friction which in turn could disrupt plans to deal with the pandemic and prevent future ones.

Amanda Glassman, a global health specialist at the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC, told the journal Nature: "A confrontational approach will make things worse."

David Fidler, a global health researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, also in Washington, DC, added there should be a "turning down of the geopolitical heat" in order to achieve international health goals like ramping up vaccine production.

Yet others stress that knowing where the virus came from is key to preventing future outbreaks. Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School in the U.K., said in a statement: "Knowing the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is essential in understanding where and how this virus emerged, and what we need to do to prevent future pandemics."

In any case Biden is not alone in calls for further investigation.

Earlier this month 18 scientists from various institutions wrote a letter, published in the journal Science, in which they said the theory of "accidental release from a lab" remains viable, adding: "We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data."

And in a statement on March 30, Britain, Australia, Canada, Japan and several other countries voiced concern that the WHO's report had "lacked access to complete, original data" and called for an independent analysis into the origins of COVID-19.

At the same time, the scientists behind the letter in Science acknowledged "unfortunately anti-Asian sentiment in some countries".

They added that "at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost."

The Chinese government has hit out at the lab leak theory and what it has called a "smear campaign."

In a statement issued Thursday, China's embassy in the U.S. said: "Since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, some political forces have been fixated on political manipulation and blame game, while ignoring their people's urgent need to fight the pandemic and the international demand for cooperation on this front, which has caused a tragic loss of many lives.

"Out of a sense of responsibility towards the health of mankind, we support a comprehensive study of all early cases of COVID-19 found worldwide and a thorough investigation into some secretive bases and biological laboratories all over the world."

Joe Biden speaking
Joe Biden pictured speaking about his administration's COVID response in Washington, DC, on May 17, 2021. The president has called for a U.S. report into the origins of COVID. Getty/Anna Moneymaker