Allies of Donald Trump took the unusual step of speaking out on Sunday in support of Joe Biden, regarding efforts to pinpoint the source of Covid-19 and find out if China knows more about the origins of the pandemic than it is letting on.
Biden said on Thursday he was expanding an investigation into the outbreak, following a departure from previous thinking by at least one US intelligence agency now leaning towards the theory that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan.
Michael McCaul, a Republican congressman from Texas, and Matthew Pottinger, Trump’s former deputy national security adviser who persuaded him to start using the controversial term “Wuhan virus”, both welcomed the development.
“It’s absolutely essential to find out what the origin of this thing is, it’s essential for us to head off the next pandemic, it’s essential for us to better understand the variants of the current pandemic that are emerging,” Pottinger told NBC’s Meet the Press.
“Both of these hypotheses that President Biden spoke of are valid, it could have emerged from a laboratory, it could have emerged from nature. Neither is supported by concrete evidence but there’s a growing amount of circumstantial evidence supporting the idea that this may have leaked from a laboratory.”
The Wuhan lab theory was dismissed by many scientists and the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Trump’s advisers was that the weight of evidence supported natural origins. The World Health Organization said in February it was “extremely unlikely” Covid-19 began in a laboratory.
But the theory has gained traction.
On Thursday, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said: “The US intelligence community does not know exactly where, when or how the Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially but has coalesced around two likely scenarios: either it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident.
“While two elements of the IC lean toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements within the IC do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.
“The IC continues to examine all available evidence, consider different perspectives, and aggressively collect and analyze new information to identify the virus’s origins.”
On Sunday, a WHO-affiliated health expert speaking to the BBC said the lab theory was “not off the table” and called on the US to share any intelligence.
Pottinger said he believed researchers in China had more to say.
“If this thing came out of a lab, there are people in China who probably know that,” he said. “China has incredible and ethical scientists, many of whom in the early stages of the pandemic suspected that this was a lab leak. [A researcher at] the Wuhan Institute of Virology said her first thought was, ‘Was this a leak from my lab?’
“These people have been systematically silenced by their government. Now that the world knows how important this is, that might also provide moral courage to many of these ethical scientists for whom I think this is weighing on their consciences. I think that we’re going to see more information come out as a result of this inquiry.”
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that three members of staff at a laboratory in Wuhan became sick with Covid-like symptoms before the first Covid patient was recorded in December 2019.
McCaul, a former chair of the House homeland security committee, told CNN’s State of the Union he believed Biden’s 90-day intelligence review would likely be inconclusive because Chinese authorities “have destroyed everything in the lab”. But he said he welcomed the new investigation.
“It more likely than not emerged out of the lab, most likely accidentally,” said McCaul, who has long argued that China and the WHO are culpable.