US President Joe Biden ordered intelligence agencies to investigate the emergence of Covid-19, amid growing controversy about the virus’s origins and report to him within 90 days.
President Biden said he had asked for a report on the origins of Covid-19, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident”.
“As of today, the US Intelligence Community has coalesced around two likely scenarios but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question,” Mr Biden said.
“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.'”
Covid-19 was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
More than 168 million cases have since been confirmed worldwide and at least 3.5 million deaths reported.
Authorities have linked early Covid cases to a seafood market in Wuhan, and scientists believed the virus first passed to humans from animals.
But recent reports suggest growing evidence the virus could instead have emerged from a laboratory in China.
Beijing has condemned the reports and suggested it could have come from a US laboratory instead.
The president has now asked agencies to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion”, and report to him within 90 days. He asked that Congress be kept “fully apprised” of the work.
He concluded by saying the US would “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”.
The laboratory leak allegations were widely dismissed last year as a fringe conspiracy theory, after then-President Donald Trump said Covid-19 had originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Many US media outlets described such claims as debunked or false.