US Department of Energy says COVID-19 most likely a result of lab leak

This is a shift in the agency's position about the origin of the virus, but it says this with "low confidence."
Ameya Paleja
COVID-19 pandemic stock image.
COVID-19 pandemic stock image.


The U.S. Department of Energy has revised its assessment of the likely origins of the COVID-19 pandemic based on new intelligence information that it has received. By changing its stance, the DOE joins the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in its stance that the virus likely spread via a mishap at a Chinese laboratory.

Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic and more than 6.8 million deaths later, we do not truly know about the origins of the causative virus. When the disease first began spreading, it was linked to an outbreak at a seafood market in Wuhan. It was thought that the virus emerged naturally and jumped from an animal to humans, something that has been seen with other viruses before.

However, no confirmed animal source has been identified for COVID-19, and the World Health Organization's (WHO) origins of the virus remain investigations have been limited by China, The Wall Street Journal reported. This has turned the attention of some scientists and U.S. officials toward a 'lab leak' as a likely explanation for the origin of the pandemic.

DOE's "low confidence" in lab leak as the origin of COVID-19

The "lab leak" hypothesis for COVID-19 origin also gains more push due to the fact that Wuhan is home to an array of laboratories that were built or expanded after China's experience with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2002. Campuses such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, a center for vaccine production, are all involved in coronavirus research.

US Department of Energy says COVID-19 most likely a result of lab leak
Stock image depicting coronavirus research

The U.S. intelligence community, which also consists of agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), State and Treasury departments, has previously reported that three researchers from the Wuhan Insitute of Virology became acutely sick in November 2019, prior to the term COVID-19 was coined and needed hospital care.

Concerns about biosafety procedures at these institutes have been flagged before and are the basis of the "lab-leak" hypothesis. The FBI concluded this to be the origin of the pandemic in its 2021 report with "moderate confidence" when the DOE was still undecided.

Now, in light of new intelligence, the DOE has changed its stance on how the virus spread but cited it with "low confidence" in a classified report provided to the White House and key members of Congress, the WSJ report said.

As many as eight agencies of U.S. intelligence are independently probing into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and four agencies, along with the national intelligence panel, believe that natural transmission was the likely cause, while two more remain undecided.

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