KEY POINTS

  • President Donald Trump says he has seen evidence that point to a Wuhan laboratory as the origin of COVID-19
  • The U.S. Intelligence Community says otherwise
  • IC concurs with the scientific consensus "COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified"

President Donald Trump is doubling down on a popular conspiracy theory the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was a virus that escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

On the other hand, the United States Intelligence Community (USIC), on which Trump relies for intelligence about all things China, on Thursday reaffirmed its agreement with the scientific consensus the COVID-19 coronavirus isn't “manmade or genetically modified.” The virus that causes COVID-19 is the “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" or SARS-CoV-2. It's unclear what sources Trump used to assert SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab.

On Thursday, Trump told media he'd seen evidence linking SARS-CoV-2 to the government-run Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), but didn't provide any proof to back-up this claim.

“Yes, I have,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked if he'd seen evidence that gives him confidence SARS-CoV-2 originated from WIV. Opening only in 2015, WIV is China's first biosafety level 4 laboratory and is administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Trump refused to answer when pressed on what gives him "a high degree of confidence" to say SARS-CoV-2 came from WIV.

“I can’t tell you that. I am not allowed to tell you that,” said Trump.

Despite not confirming Trump's claim, USIC officials said they're investigating if the outbreak began through contact with animals (a zoonotic infection) or was the result of a lab accident in Wuhan.

“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,” said in a statement from the Office of Director of National Intelligence.

“The IC (intelligence community) 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."

USIC has not presented any evidence SARS-CoV-2 emanated from WIV. Along with academics, USIC has consistently disputed the conspiracy theory COVID-19 is a manmade virus. USIC hasn't completely dismissed the theory SARS-CoV-2 is a naturally-occurring virus being studied at WIV that escaped by accident into the general population, however.

"The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified," the statement added.

Many American health experts have long been skeptical of the rumor SARS-CoV-2 has links to WIV and say a non-laboratory scenario is much more plausible.

Dr. Jonna Mazet, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Davis and director of the PREDICT project that monitors emerging viruses, revealed the staff at WIV were trained at U.S. laboratories and follow high safety standards. She said all of the evidence "points to this not being a laboratory accident."

Senior Trump administration officials “have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory” the Wuhan lab was the point of origin for the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The New York Times.

“The effort comes as President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic,” wrote the Times.