Biden says China withholding 'critical information' about origins of pandemic

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US President Joe Biden said Friday that China was still withholding "critical information" on the origins of Covid-19 as the US intelligence community said it did not believe the virus was a bioweapon – but remained split on whether it escaped from a lab.

"Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People's Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it," Biden said in a statement.

"To this day, the PRC continues to reject calls for transparency and withhold information, even as the toll of this pandemic continues to rise," he added.

The statement comes as the US intelligence community has failed to resolve a sharp debate within the Biden administration over whether a Chinese laboratory incident was the source of Covid-19, according to a declassified summary of a report requested by the US president.

The summary, which was released by US officials on Friday, said US intelligence community has reached "broad agreement" that the coronavirus was not developed as a bioweapon, and that most US agencies assess with "low confidence" that it was not genetically engineered.

However, the intelligence community remains divided on the pathogen's origins, with four agencies and the National Intelligence Council judging in favour of natural exposure to an animal as the likely explanation, one agency favoring the lab leak theory and three unable to reach a conclusion.

The report concluded that analysts would not be able to provide "a more definitive explanation" without new information from China, such as clinical samples and epidemiological data about the earliest cases.

For its part, China has ridiculed a theory that Covid-19 escaped from the state virology lab in Wuhan and pushed fringe theories including that the virus slipped out of a lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland, in 2019.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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