US spies say Covid-19 not man-made but do not rule out Chinese lab accident

Coronavirus was “not man-made or genetically modified,” US intelligence agencies have said.

However, they are still investigating whether the pandemic originated during a Chinese lab accident or though animal transmission .

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the comments in a statement on Thursday.

The news comes as US President Donald Trump and his allies continued to tout the unproven theory that Covid-19 came from an infectious disease lab in Wuhan – capital of Central China’s Hubei province.

The intelligence agency’s statement said: “The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”

“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.”

President Donald Trump said the virus emerged from a Wuhan lab although these claims remain unproven (Getty Images)

Mr Trump addressed the theory earlier this month, saying, “More and more, we’re hearing the story.”

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo added: “The mere fact that we don’t know the answers, that China  hasn’t shared the answers, I think is very, very telling.”

Mr Pompeo also pressed China to let outside experts into the lab “so that we can determine precisely where this virus began”.

While Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo have made public statements speculating about the lab, a US intelligence official disputed the notion that there was any pressure on agencies to bolster a particular theory.

The intelligence official was not authorised to publicly discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

While scientists say the virus arose naturally in bats, Mr Pompeo and others have pointed fingers at an institute that is run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

It has done groundbreaking research tracing the likely origins of the Sars virus, finding new bat viruses and discovering how they could jump to people.

“We know that there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was,” Mr Pompeo said two weeks ago.

US officials say the American Embassy in Beijing flagged concerns about potential safety issues at the lab in Wuhan in 2018, but they have yet to find any evidence the virus originated there nearly two years later.

The Chinese government said any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.

“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Mr Geng said.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman also criticised US politicians who have suggested China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home”.​

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