Canada backs U.S. President Joe Biden’s effort to identify the origin of COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.
“We support the call by the United States and others to better understand the origins of COVID-19, not just to ensure accountability, but also to make sure we fully understand how to better protect the world going forward from any such further pandemics,” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Since it was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, COVID-19 has caused a global pandemic that the World Health Organization says has infected more than 169 million people and caused nearly 3.5 million deaths.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden ordered U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of COVID-19, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory. The President gave the agencies a 90-day timeline, and on Thursday said he plans to release the results publicly.
The U.S. intelligence community on Thursday acknowledged its agencies had two theories on where COVID-19 originated, with two agencies saying they believe it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, and a third pointing to a possible laboratory accident as the source of the global pandemic.
“The U.S. Intelligence Community does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially but [it] has coalesced around two likely scenarios,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said, adding that the majority believes there is not “sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”
The ODNI statement did not identify which two of the 17 agencies constituting the U.S. intelligence community believe the virus originated with infected animals and which agency believes it originated with a laboratory accident.
Mr. Trudeau did not say whether Canada would take an active role in the U.S. investigation, and declined to say on Thursday whether Canada’s intelligence agencies favour one theory over another.
“I know there are a lot of theories out there, but we need to make sure we’re getting to a full and complete airing of the facts to actually understand what happened and how to make sure it never happens again,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“We’re going to wait for conclusions and reports. Obviously there are very sensitive questions. … There’s also been a lot of misinformation out there, and I’m going to make sure that we are allowing for a full airing of the facts and getting to the bottom of everything before making suppositions about what might’ve happened or who could be behind it.”
Mr. Trudeau’s comments echo similar ones he made in May, 2020, when he said it was “too early to draw firm conclusions” on the origin of the virus. Scientists and politicians blame a lack of transparency from the Chinese government for the slow progress on answering that question.
The Wednesday announcement from the White House marked a significant change in posture for Mr. Biden. His administration has for months played down the theory that the virus originated from a lab. Now though, it has joined worldwide pressure for China to be more open about the outbreak, aiming to head off Republican complaints the President has not been tough enough and to use the opportunity to press China on alleged obstruction.
Still, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Biden administration officials continue to harbour strong doubts about the lab-leak theory. Rather, they view China’s refusal to co-operate in the investigation – particularly on something of such magnitude – as emblematic of other irresponsible actions on the world stage.
Last year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent investigation into how COVID-19 originated. China later hit Australia with trade sanctions.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington, without mentioning the Biden order, accused unnamed political forces of being fixated on a blame game while ignoring the urgent need to combat the pandemic.
“Smear campaign and blame shifting are making a comeback, and the conspiracy theory of ‘lab leak’ is resurfacing,” the embassy said in a statement posted on Wednesday on its website.
Mr. Biden directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and the intelligence community to prepare a list of specific queries for the Chinese government. He called on China to co-operate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.
With reports from the Associated Press and Reuters
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