At a White House event on Thursday, President Trump claimed to have seen evidence that the coronavirus currently plaguing the world escaped from a microbiology laboratory in Wuhan, China.
“We’re going to see where it comes from,” Trump said. “We have people looking at it very, very strongly. Scientific people, intelligence people, and others. We’re going to put it all together. I think we will have a very good answer eventually. And China might even tell us.”
When pressed for details, the president demurred.
“I can’t tell you that,” President Trump said. “I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
Prior to the White House event, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the head of the seventeen-member United States Intelligence Community who oversees the National Intelligence Program, issued a statement asserting that the intelligence community “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified”.
Many media have mistakenly taken this statement to mean that the intelligence community does not believe in the possibility that the virus escaped from the laboratory that is in Wuhan and was researching the novel coronavirus in bats. In fact, the prevailing theory is that that virus was naturally occurring but had escaped from the laboratory. There are at least two cases in history in which a virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory, leading to an epidemic.
“The 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,” the statement added.
The Trump administration announced this week that is had pulled funding for a group of foreign scientists studying coronaviruses in bats and the risk of their spillover into humans. In a letter last Friday, the National Institutes of Health informed the EcoHealth Alliance in charge of the grants that it was terminating the grant and denying it access to the remaining $369,819 in its account for the Fiscal Year 2020. This funding was provided for more than ten years under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health and much of it went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The institute is just a few hundred meters from the wet market named as the epicenter of the viral breakout, though it has been noted that the wet market sells seafood and the only bats of the species that carries the virus are approximately 1,000 miles distant from Wuhan.