The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said it is “assured” that the novel coronavirus, which has turned into a global pandemic, is “natural in origin” — this as the U.S. is increasingly eyeing a lab in Wuhan, China, as where the deadly outbreak may have started.
“We have listened again and again to numerous scientists who have looked at the sequence and looked at the virus and we are assured that this virus is natural in origin,” Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said at a press conference when asked about the virus’ origins.
“What is important is that we establish what that natural host for this virus is, and the primary purpose of doing that is to ensure we understand the virus more, we understand the animal-human interface and we understand how the animal-human species barrier was breached,” he said.
Ryan’s remarks come a day after acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell announced that the U.S. is investigating whether the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, although he, too, emphasized that the U.S. believes the virus is natural and not man-made.
“The entire Intelligence Community [IC] has been consistently providing critical support to U.S. policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China. The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified,” a statement from Grenell’s office said.
“As we do in all crises, the Community’s experts respond by surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to U.S. national security. 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 Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said.
The ODNI statement was the first on-record comment from the office confirming the probe.
Fox News first reported earlier this month that there is increasing confidence that the outbreak likely escaped from the lab, not as a bioweapon but as part of a Chinese effort to show that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than those of the U.S. This would be at odds with claims the outbreak originated at a nearby wet market.
Fox News also reported previously that a full-scale investigation was underway, with intelligence operatives said to be gathering information about the laboratory and the initial outbreak of the virus. Intelligence analysts are piecing together a timeline of what the government knew and “creating an accurate picture of what happened,” sources had said.
U.S. officials and the intelligence community have confirmed to Fox News that they have taken the possibility of the coronavirus being man-made or engineered inside China as some sort of bioweapon off the table and have ruled it out at this point.
Sources point to the structure of the virus, in saying the genome mapping specifically shows it was not genetically altered. The sources believe the initial transmission of the virus was a naturally occurring strain that was being studied there — and then went into the population in Wuhan.