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A government laboratory in California concluded in May 2020 that COVID-19 may have escaped from a facility in Wuhan, it has emerged, and recommended further investigation.
Scientists at the the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, near Berkeley, analyzed the genetic makeup of the virus to try to understand how it evolved.
They passed their May 27, 2020 findings on to the State Department in October. The five-month delay was not explained.
On January 15 the State Department published a fact sheet about COVID-19, which said that ‘circumstantial’ evidence suggested a lab leak theory was possible.
The secret document the California lab produced was not known about until Monday, when The Wall Street Journal reported on its existence.
Revelation of its existence comes as the idea of a lab leak as a source of the pandemic gains acceptance even as through most of the pandemic many mainstream scientists and media figures parroted the line from China that the virus was naturally occurring.
Now, President Joe Biden on May 26 ordered intelligence agencies to investigate the two competing ideas about the origins of the pandemic – evolved naturally and passed from animals to humans, or released from a laboratory. He gave them 90 days to report back.
People familiar with the Lawrence Livermore study said that it was prepared by their ‘Z Division,’ which is its intelligence arm.
The sprawling facility has an annual budget of $2.5 billion and employs 7,900 people.
It is largely funded by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
The California lab has not confirmed the contents of their report, which remains secret.
Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State, has urged China to be more transparent about what they knew, when.
‘What the government didn’t do in the early days and still hasn’t done is given us the transparency we need,’ Blinken said on Sunday, in an interview with Axios.
The White House has also accused China of obstructing investigations into the source of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) sent a team to the Wuhan lab in late January, but the investigators were only allowed in for three hours, and were not granted access to all the documentation they required.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, said their visit was inconclusive and upbraided China for being uncooperative.
Dr Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser and the nation’s top public health expert, is now facing scrutiny over what he knew, when – and whether he was always straight with the public.
His critics, mainly Republicans, accuse him of downplaying the ‘lab leak’ theory because it was promoted heavily by Donald Trump. Fauci was first appointed by Trump.
The critics also argue that Fauci did not want to admit at the time that U.S. taxpayers’ money was spent on the Wuhan lab.
He has since confirmed that $820,000 was given to the lab, over six years, to fund their research into coronaviruses.
Fauci justified the spending when quizzed on it before Congress last month, insisting that it was vital to understand coronaviruses coming from bats, and the bats were in China.
He said it would have been a dereliction of duty not to support the scientific research.
Fauci also insisted that the grants were not being used on ‘gain of function’ research, whereby viruses are made more transmissible or deadly, to understand their capabilities.
He said the scientific studies published thanks to U.S. funding bore no evidence of ‘gain of function’ research.
But he admitted that he had no way of knowing if the Wuhan lab was carrying out experiments in secret.