The FBI said it concluded that COVID-19 likely originated from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China, the bureau’s director Christopher Wray announced late Tuesday.
The assessment came following years of debate as other government officials have suggested that the virus likely came from a wet market in the region.
“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” Wray said. “I will just make the observation that the Chinese government has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here, the work that we're doing, the work that our U.S. government and close foreign partners are doing.”
In 2021, the office of the director of national intelligence said in a declassified report that it judged “the virus was not developed as a biological weapon.”
“Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way,” the report added.
U.S. intelligence believes cases of COVID-19 start popping up no later than November 2019, with clusters of cases forming in December 2019.
Within months, and despite lockdowns in much of China, cases began spreading worldwide, disrupting daily life.
But the U.S. and other world governments say that China has made it challenging for them to trace the virus back to its origins.
“The (intelligence community) — and the global scientific community — lacks clinical samples or a complete understanding of epidemiological data from the earliest COVID-19 cases. If we obtain information on the earliest cases that identified a location of interest or occupational exposure, it may alter our evaluation of hypotheses,” wrote the office of the director of national intelligence in its 2021 report.