WASHINGTON — An array of activists, scientists and politicians said Wednesday that the Biden administration’s inconclusive report on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic demonstrates the need for further probes, even if that leads the United States into delicate geopolitical territory.
“It is good they did that review, but I don’t think we should all move on just because it was inconclusive,” said Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “I’m actually disturbed that much of the scientific and public health community seems complacent to make their best guesses and move on without getting to the root cause of the pandemic.”
The administration’s classified review, with portions set to be publicly released as soon as this week, doesn’t rule out that the virus emerged in the wild or that it leaked from a laboratory, officials said. Its pending release has sparked an outcry in China, where officials have bristled at inquires into the possibility of a laboratory leak and state media this week preemptively blasted the U.S. findings.
The findings also caused a stir in the United States, with close observers concluding that the White House report supports their existing positions on COVID-19 — even when their positions directly conflict.
“I’m not surprised that the intelligence community would come up with the similar conclusion that the scientific community has, which is you can’t rule out either a natural hypothesis ... or this lab leak hypothesis,” said Michael Worobey, head of the University of Arizona’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, who said far more evidence favors that the virus jumped from animals to humans.
“There is no mystery: Overwhelming evidence indicates the COVID-19 virus originated in the Wuhan lab in China,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., countered in a statement. “The failure of the Biden administration to reach a definitive conclusion on the origins of COVID-19 shows this was not a serious, objective effort.”
The report, commissioned as a 90-day review, was prompted after President Biden received a May report from the nation’s intelligence agencies saying they had “coalesced around two likely scenarios” but had not reached a conclusion. The president disclosed that two agencies leaned toward the hypothesis that the virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal, while a third leaned toward the lab scenario.
Debate over the pandemic’s origins sparked partisan brawls last year, fueled by President Donald Trump’s public claims that the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, and Democrats’ insistence that the Trump administration was seeking to evade responsibility for mismanaging the response. But most Americans, including 59 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats, say they believe the virus emerged from a lab rather than from human contact with an infected animal, according to a Politico-Harvard poll released last month.
Several scientists said the question of the virus’s origin is important to understand, stressing that the lessons would be vital for preventing future pandemics. But they lamented that the search for an origin has become highly politicized. Many said they were not surprised the report was inconclusive and remained skeptical there would ever be a definitive answer.