U.S. Government Divided On Covid Lab Leak Theory—Here’s Where Each Agency Stands


The U.S. Energy Department has reportedly concluded with “low confidence” the coronavirus leaked from a lab, reigniting a debate over the origins of the pandemic, with some federal agencies believing the virus spread naturally from animals to humans while others have backed the theory—which many experts deem feasible but unlikely—that it spread from a lab accident.

Key Facts

National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease: The agency has said evidence suggests the virus originated in nature and spread from an unidentified animal host to humans, citing bats as a possible origin source—Dr. Anthony Fauci, the agency’s longtime former head, has said in the past he’s open-minded to the possibility of a lab leak, but he thinks a natural origin of the virus is more likely.

Centers for Disease Control: The agency also links the origin of the virus to bats, according to its website, but during a 2021 congressional hearing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky called a lab leak “one possibility.”

Intelligence Community: U.S. intelligence agencies are divided on whether the virus spread naturally or accidentally leaked from a lab, and think both theories are plausible, the National Intelligence Council said in a report released October 2021, but they ruled out the possibility that the virus was developed as a biological weapon and assessed the virus was not genetically engineered.

Department of Energy: The agency now thinks the coronavirus probably leaked from a lab, but that’s a “low confidence” assessment, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported Sunday (the agency—which weighed in because it oversees a network of U.S. labs—previously was undecided, the Journal reported).

Federal Bureau of Investigation: The law enforcement agency also concluded with “moderate confidence” that the virus originated accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Chinese lab that worked on coronaviruses, the Times reported.

Central Intelligence Agency: The nation’s main foreign intelligence agency hasn’t decided between the two dominant theories, lab leak and transmission from animals to humans, the Journal reported Sunday—one of two agencies to remain on the fence.

Other Intelligence Agencies: Four unknown agencies and the National Intelligence Council reportedly believe with “low confidence” humans caught the virus naturally through animals rather than through a lab incident, unchanged from the 2021 NIC report.

Senate Republicans: The pandemic was likely the result of a “research-related incident,” and the hypothesis of animal transmission “no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt,” GOP members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions said in an October 2022 report.


Chinese officials dismissed the Department of Energy’s reported conclusions on Monday, citing a World Health Organization determination that it was “extremely unlikely” the coronavirus originated in a lab and arguing efforts to advance the theory are political. Chinese officials have consistently dismissed the theory that the virus originated in a lab.


The WHO released a report two years ago confirming there was widespread contamination of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes Covid-19—in the Huanan food market in Wuhan, China, after conducting a research trip there in early 2021. The report also said that a lab leak was the least likely hypothesis for the spread of the virus. Some, including the Biden Administration, said they had concerns about the investigation, and argued the Chinese government did not give the WHO enough information to fully investigate the origins of the virus. In July 2021, the Chinese government rejected a WHO plan to conduct a second phase of research, which would have further investigated the lab leak theory.

Key Background

The theory that the virus leaked from a laboratory in China rather than jumping from animals to humans naturally has been around since the beginning of the pandemic, and has often been backed by Republicans. Some lab leak believers think the virus may have evolved naturally and escaped from a lab conducting research on it, but others, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have suggested it could be a modified virus created during National Institutes of Health-supported research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a claim Francis Collins, former director of NIH, was quick to call “demonstrably false.” But many scientists dispute the claims made by the lab leak believers. A report published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argued there is “considerable scientific peer-reviewed evidence” that the virus that causes Covid-19 moved from bats to other wildlife to people in the wildlife trade, causing an outbreak at the Huanan Market. Another 2020 review that looked at the origins of the virus, found no evidence to support the laboratory origin theory and said that documented history of the spread of coronavirus was comparable to previous animal market-associated outbreaks of coronaviruses.

Big Number

757 million. That’s how many people have been infected with Covid-19 since the first documented case of the virus in December 2019, according to the WHO. Nearly seven million have died as a result of the virus, the WHO said.

Further Reading

China Responds To Lab Leak Report—Says U.S. Is ‘Politicizing’ Search For Covid Origins (Forbes)

Timeline: How The Covid Lab Leak Origin Story Went From ‘Conspiracy Theory’ To Government Debate (Forbes)

Here’s What Dr. Fauci Has Said About Covid’s Origins And The Lab Leak Theory (Forbes)

A Timeline Of The COVID-19 Wuhan Lab Origin Theory (Forbes)

Covid Likely Originated From Lab Leak, Energy Department Reportedly Finds—But Biden Aide Says There’s No ‘Definitive Answer’ (Forbes)

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Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/anafaguy/2023/02/27/us-government-divided-on-covid-lab-leak-theory-heres-where-each-agency-stands/