WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s decision to announce an intensified 90-day review into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic came about in part because of the Chinese government’s refusal participate in an investigation by the World Health Organization, a source familiar with the decision told NBC News.
Biden released a statement Wednesday asking the intelligence community to redouble its efforts to get to the bottom of the origins of Covid-19, after new reports raised questions about whether it spread from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
The source said the genesis of Biden’s ask goes back weeks, after he’d received information on the matter that he’d asked for back in March, the source said. The information was in the President’s Daily Brief, the highly classified briefing prepared for the president by the intelligence community.
Biden asked if he could declassify some of the report without compromising sources and methods so the White House could share the information publicly, the source said.
That effort was underway when China announced on Tuesday that it would not participate in “phase two” of the WHO’s investigation into the origins of Covid-19. A joint WHO-China study in March found the virus had likely been transmitted from bats to humans, and that theories the virus spread through “a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway.”
China’s decision not to cooperate “heightened interest in us being more transparent about the steps we were taking,” the source said. “We continue to believe that China has crucial information about he origins of the pandemic that it is not sharing with the international community.”
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported, and NBC News confirmed, that a U.S. intelligence report identified three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that had sought treatment at a hospital after falling ill in November 2019. The lab’s senior researcher had previously denied that anyone at the facility had gotten sick during that time period.
In his statement Wednesday, Biden noted that the U.S. intelligence community has been unable to reach a “definitive conclusion” on the origins of the virus and said that he’d asked national security adviser Jake Sullivan in March to prepare a report for him on what was known.
Biden said the findings concluded that while two elements of the intelligence community “lean” toward the explanation that the virus came from animal contact, another leans toward the laboratory explanation.
“I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days,” his statement said.
Chinese officials lashed out over Biden’s announcement earlier Thursday, suggesting the U.S. was being duped into believing conspiracy theories.
“Some people in the United States completely ignore facts and science,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Kristen Welker reported from Washington, and Dareh Gregorian reported from New York.