US shoots itself in foot as ‘inconclusive’ COVID-19 origins report mars reputation
US shoots itself in foot by conducting “predetermined investigation” against China: epidemiologists
Published: Aug 29, 2021 10:16 PM
US President Joe Biden is seen through a curtain as he waits backstage before coming out to deliver remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program on August 23, in Washington, DC.
Photo: AFP

US President Joe Biden is seen through a curtain as he waits backstage before coming out to deliver remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program on August 23, in Washington, DC. Photo: AFP

With US President Joe Biden's intelligence review of the coronavirus origins, which was launched with great fanfare, ending in embarrassment and no firm conclusion, world scientists and Chinese officials lashed out at the US government, saying it shot itself in the foot by concocting a "presupposed investigation" to throw mud at China, and ended up making itself look bad in front of the world. 

Officials from China's top health authority and top epidemiologists unanimously suggested expanding the coronavirus origins probe to other countries where the existence of coronavirus was reported earlier than Wuhan, especially the US. 

Zeng Yixin, deputy minister of China's National Health Commission, said on Sunday that it is ironic that the US government mobilized its intelligence apparatus instead of professional health institutes to probe the origins of the novel coronavirus. 

Zeng made the remarks after the US report on the COVID-19 origins, concocted by US intelligence teams and partially released on Friday, said the US intelligence community "remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19."

After reviewing all available intelligence reporting and information, the US National Intelligence Council and four other intelligence agencies reported that they believed the virus that causes COVID-19 was most likely created by "natural exposure to an animal infected with it, or a close progenitor virus," the unclassified summary of the probe released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote.    

One intelligence agency believed that SARS-CoV-2 most likely was the result of a lab-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), it said.  

The outcome of the 90-day report is that even more US intelligence agencies than before are now leaning toward a 'natural' origin theory, with only one in disagreement, an expert close to the China-WHO joint expert team told the Global Times on condition of anonymity.

The expert said that the US report "cites no new evidence to support a lab leak, yet scientific papers demonstrating a valid pathway for origins from bats to intermediate hosts to people have now been published. It's time for us all to put aside politics and let science take the lead so we can develop the collaborative studies to find the true origins of COVID-19."

During a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China strongly opposes the US intelligence agencies' report on coronavirus origins. Politicizing the coronavirus origins probe is a political burden passed on by the US previous administration, said Wang, noting that the sooner the US shakes off this burden, the more it will help it walk out of its current dilemma.

China again urged the US to stop politicizing the coronavirus origins issue, stop pressuring the WHO, and stop disturbing international society's united effort to fight COVID-19, as well as scientific cooperation on finding the virus origins.

Blinken noted that the US has no intention of accusing any country. As big countries, both China and the US have the obligation to find the coronavirus origins to avoid the next pandemic. For that, the US is willing to keep contact with China, said Blinken.

In March this year, the China-WHO joint expert team issued a joint study which outlined several possibilities for the coronavirus origins, including  introduction through an intermediary host species is "the most likely" passway; direct transmission or introduction through cold-chain food is likely, but still labeled the "lab leak" theory as "extremely unlikely."

In a Friday statement regarding the intelligence team's report, Biden said the US would continue working to understand the origins of the virus and called on China to be more transparent about the coronavirus origins.

CNN cited officials as saying on August 12 that the Biden administration has considered whether to launch another investigation if this one proves inconclusive, but it is unclear whether a decision has been made to reopen the probe after the 90-day report is released.

Liang Wannian, team leader of the Chinese side of the WHO-convened joint expert team on origins tracing, told the Global Times during an exclusive interview that "the investigation conducted by US intelligence agencies has gone beyond science. I would like to stress that tracing the origins of the virus is ultimately a scientific issue. Any researches carried out in anywhere should be based on scientific clues and evidence, and should be led by scientists."

Liang said he hopes that the international community will truly take origins-tracing work as a scientific issue, get rid of political interference, actively and steadily promote the continuous origins-tracing study in many countries around the world, strengthen scientific cooperation and exchanges on origins-tracing, and do its utmost to prevent the re-transmission of similar viruses in animals and humans.

The US intelligence team's report on coronavirus origins is a "predetermined investigation" to throw mud at China, yet it embarrassed itself in front of the world when those intelligence teams failed to find concrete evidence to support their lab leak conspiracy, Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Global Times on Sunday. 

Zeng Guang said Biden's remarks blaming China after his intelligence team failed to come up with a firm conclusion may serve to "save face," but launching another investigation would further downgrade the US' already marred reputation.

Right after the US' "inconclusive report" was released,  Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu, the Chinese embassy in Washington and Chinese ambassador to the US Qin Gang all sternly criticized the US move. Ma said China has lodged solemn representations to the US over the origins-tracing report, urging it to listen to doubts from the international community and stop politicizing the issue.

The right path

During the Sunday interview, Zeng Yixin emphasized that the coronavirus origins probe is a complicated scientific job, which should only be conducted by scientists worldwide. He suggested that scientists be encouraged to work together, and conduct coronavirus origins tracing in multiple countries, including the US.  

His suggestion was echoed by Zeng Guang, who has been vocal in suggesting that the next phase of the coronavirus origins probe should make the US a priority. The CDC expert said that the timeline is the first factor to be considered when seeking virus origins, "and since there are so many traces indicating coronavirus has emerged in other parts of the world, including the US, why can't we focus on the US right now?"

A study of more than 24,000 samples taken for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research program in the US between January 2 and March 18, 2020 suggested that seven people in five states - Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - may have been infected well before the country's first confirmed cases were reported in January 21, 2020.

Zeng Guang also said that Europe should come after the US as a target of the coronavirus origins probe, as several European countries reported existence of coronavirus earlier than the Wuhan outbreak.

A study of blood samples from 9,144 adults in 12 different regions of France found seven which contained antibodies against coronavirus, and all of them taken in November 2019, indicating that SARS CoV-2 virus was most likely circulating in the country from at least November 2019. 

An Italian lung cancer screening trial has found samples taken in September 2019 which appear to contain anti-SARS CoV-2 antibodies. Another antibody study suggests the virus was circulating at a low level in northern Italy at the same time, notably in Lombardy. 

As the US has been exhausting all means to politicize the coronavirus origins probe, the international scientists of the WHO's SARS-CoV-2 origins tracing mission to China on Wednesday warned that the window for key scientific study is closing due to follow-up work being stalled for months since the WHO's March report, stressing the urgency for scientific collaborative study while removing political interference which has focused on the lab leak theory, tried to discredit scientists and drive a wedge between them. 

A member of the WHO-China joint study team told the Global Times, "We stand united as a team behind the work we did with our colleagues in China. We reaffirm our confidence in the results of our analyses on which pathways are most likely and which are not, and strongly believe in the importance of keeping this work as a scientific collaborative study, and removing political influences."