Origin Debate Escalates

President Biden ordered US intelligence agencies to step up efforts to investigate the origins of COVID-19, the AP reports, amid growing pressure fueled by reports this week supporting the theory that the virus escaped from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Biden’s statement yesterday revealed a US intelligence community split, with 2 agencies seeing an animal spillover source as more likely, while a third leans toward the lab leak theory. He directed the agencies to prepare a report, including a list of specific queries for the Chinese government, within 90 days.
The downside: The politically-charged debate could hurt global efforts to study the virus, end COVID-19, and prevent future pandemics, writes Amy Maxmen in Nature.

  • US-China tension threatens to overshadow collaborative efforts at the World Health Assembly this week, at a point when global solidarity and consensus among powerful countries is key. “A confrontational approach will make things worse,” warns the Center for Global Development’s Amanda Glassman.

  • And, pressure on China could backfire, making Chinese scientists and officials less likely to share information, says Kristian Andersen, a Scripps Research virologist.

Another challenge: Getting definitive answers on the virus’s origin without cooperation from China, CNN notes. Divisive US politics threaten to cloud any conclusions, too.

  • The probe needs to be based on a scientific method, “which means you don't go into this with a preferred conclusion and then cherry pick your data to fit that conclusion,” George Washington University professor Leana Wen told CNN.
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