A top US spy agency has joined a growing global consensus that Chinese scientists did not intentionally set out to create the coronavirus.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said US intelligence agencies had concurred that COVID-19 “was not man-made or genetically modified” by Chinese scientists in a government biological weapons laboratory from which it then escaped.
However, they have not ruled out the possibility that the outbreak began as the result of an accident at the laboratory in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the pandemic.
ODNI said spy agencies would continue to “rigorously examine emerging information” to determine whether the “outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan”.
The statement came shortly after a New York Times article contained accusations from former and current Trump administration officials that US spy agencies were urged to dig up evidence that would substantiate the theory that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan laboratory.
The Chinese government said such claims were “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing”.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated previous comments about the lab’s strict implementation of biosecurity procedures to prevent the release of any pathogen.
“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” he said.
As American spy agencies proceed with investigations to understand the pandemic’s true origins, anti-China activists and some supporters of US President Donald Trump maintain the belief that COVID-19 was developed at a Wuhan lab.
US officials familiar with intelligence reporting and analysis have said for weeks they believe the virus was either introduced naturally into a Wuhan meat market or could have escaped from one of two Wuhan government labs that are believed to conduct civilian research into possible biological hazards.
Around the world, scientists are examining whether the virus arose naturally in bats. In April, Mr Trump said: “More and more, we’re hearing the story”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The mere fact that we don’t know the answers – that China hasn’t shared the answers – I think is very, very telling.”
To “determine precisely where this virus began”, he said China should allow outside experts into the lab.