A report by a US government national laboratory last year on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic concluded that it was plausible that the coronavirus originated in a laboratory in China’s Wuhan and deemed the hypothesis worthy of further investigation, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing people familiar with the classified document.
The report was prepared in May 2020 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and was referred to by the US State Department during an inquiry into the pandemic’s origins last year, the report said.
A former official involved in the State Department inquiry told the newspaper that the study was considered to be important because the laboratory was well-respected and its hypothesis differed from the prevailing theory at the time, which said the virus was initially transmitted to humans via an infected animal.
The US lab’s assessment was based on a genomic analysis of the coronavirus carried out by its intelligence department, the report said.
Scientists analyze the genetic makeup of viruses to try to determine their origins and evolution.
An individual who read the study, dated May 27, 2020, said it made a strong case for further investigation into the theory that the virus could have seeped out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The laboratory refused to comment on the Wall Street Journal’s report. The lab’s report remains secret.
After months of minimizing that possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is joining worldwide pressure for China to be more open about the outbreak.
Last month, US President Joe Biden ordered intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory.
Biden directed US “national laboratories,” without specifically mentioning Lawrence Livermore, to assist with the investigation and the intelligence community to prepare a list of specific queries for the Chinese government.
He called on China to cooperate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.
Biden asked US intelligence agencies to report back within 90 days, and he said that he aimed to release their results publicly.
The White House also supports a new World Health Organization investigation in China, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying last month that an effective probe “would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins.”
Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal in Wuhan, China.
Biden ordered an initial intelligence review in March and, upon being presented with its conclusions as part of his regular presidential daily briefing, determined more digging was required. He also ordered that excerpts of the assessment be declassified to demonstrate the US government’s commitment to investigating the origins of the pandemic and to increase pressure on China to cooperate.
Biden in a statement said the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around those two scenarios but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.” He revealed that two agencies lean toward the animal link and “one leans more toward” the lab theory, “each with low or moderate confidence.”
“The United States will also 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,” said Biden.