U.S. intelligence agencies have debunked the conspiracy theory that the new coronavirus was man-made or "genetically modified" in a lab. However, the agencies are still looking into the still-unproven idea pushed by President Donald Trump and his allies that the virus originated from an accident at an infectious disease lab in Wuhan, China. Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the virus, which has led to the deaths of more than 60,000 Americans.
In the new statement on Thursday, the intelligence community said it "concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified." Still, the IC "will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence 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 was released just hours after The New York Times reported that Senior Trump administration officials are pushing the American spy agencies to look for evidence supporting a theory that the Wuhan lab was the origin of the outbreak, citing current and former American officials.
Intelligence Community Statement on Origins of COVID-19 pic.twitter.com/MIPr6LVzU4— Office of the DNI (@ODNIgov) April 30, 2020
Intelligence agencies have been skeptical that a definitive link between the lab and the virus' spread could be found. Scientists have said the virus rose naturally from bats, reports the Associated Press. But Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both pushed for more answers from China. Pompeo proposed China let outside scientists into the lab "so that we can determine precisely where this virus began."
Pompeo has pointed to the institute run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which studied the origin of SARS, new bat viruses and how they could be transmitted to people. "We know that there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was," Pompeo said earlier this month. The institute's address is about eight miles from the market.
American officials said the American Embassy in Beijing called out the Wuhan lab for possible safety problems in 2018, but there still is no direct evidence linking the lab to the coronavirus outbreak. The Chinese government also pushed back against claims the lab released the coronavirus. They called the theory "unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing."
During a press conference earlier this month, Trump was asked about a report that COVID-19 started at the Wuhan lab. "Well, I don't wanna say that... but I will tell you that more and more we're hearing the story and we'll see," Trump said. "When you say multiple sources, now there's a case when you can use the word 'sources' but we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened."
China has been accused of spreading false information about the coronavirus. In March, a spokesman from China's Foreign Ministry endorsed a theory that U.S. Army members who visited Wuhan in October brought the virus to the country. There is no evidence to support this, reports the Times.