The US intelligence community failed to resolve sharp debate within the Biden administration over whether a Chinese laboratory incident was the source of Covid-19, US officials said in a declassified summary on Friday.
The report, issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to Joe Biden’s request, said a satisfying answer to the question of how a virus that has killed 4.6 million people worldwide started remained out of reach.
According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 633,000 people have died in the US, out of a caseload of more than 38m.
US authorities said on Friday 366,838,484 doses of Covid-19 vaccines had been administered and 437,567,285 distributed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 203,475,192 people had received at least one shot while 172,646,952 people were fully vaccinated.
In a statement, Biden said: “Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it.”
He added: “The world deserves answers and I will not rest until we get them.”
Organizations within the US intelligence community disagreed about the origins of the novel coronavirus.
Several thought it emerged from “natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus”, according to the summary. But they only had “low confidence” in that conclusion. Other groups were not able to come to a firm opinion.
One intelligence community segment developed “moderate confidence” that the first human infection with Covid was probably due to a “laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.
The report concluded that analysts would not be able to provide “a more definitive explanation” without new information from China, such as clinical samples and epidemiological data about the earliest cases.
China has ridiculed the theory that Covid-19 escaped from the lab in Wuhan and pushed theories including that it slipped out of a lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland, in 2019.
Biden said: “While this review has concluded, our efforts to understand the origins of this pandemic will not rest. We will do everything we can to trace the roots of this outbreak that has caused so much pain and death around the world, so that we can take every necessary precaution to prevent it from happening again.”
He added: “To this day, [China] continues to reject calls for transparency and withhold information, even as the toll of this pandemic continues to rise. We needed this information rapidly, from [China], while the pandemic was still new.”
Biden said his administration had “renewed US leadership in the World Health Organization and rallied allies and partners to renew focus on this critical question.
“The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them. Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world. Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how Covid-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.”
The US, Biden said, would “continue to press [China] to adhere to scientific norms and standards, including sharing information and data from the earliest days of the pandemic, protocols related to biosafety, and information from animal populations. We must have a full and transparent accounting of this global tragedy. Nothing less is acceptable.”
The CDC tally for US vaccinations against Covid-19 included two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine.
About 732,000 people have received an additional dose of either Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine since 13 August, when the US authorized a third dose of the vaccines for people with compromised immune systems who are likely to have weaker protection from the two-dose regimens.