The COVID-19 virus most likely leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, according to the US Energy Department.
In a report seen by the Wall Street Journal, the US agency said the virus was not being engineered as part of a weapons program.
Recently given to the White House and members of Congress, the updated report marks a change in the department’s position on how the virus emerged. Previously, it had said it was “undecided” on how COVID appeared.
Along with the Energy Department, the FBI also believes a lab leak is the most likely source of the virus, however the department added that it was making this judgement with “low confidence” compared to the FBI which reached its conclusion with “moderate confidence” in 2021.
Four other US agencies still say it was likely the result of natural transmission. Another two remain officially undecided.
The report was conducted “in light of new intelligence, further study of academic literature and consultation with experts outside government,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said there were still a “variety of views” on the issue.
He told CNN on Sunday that President Joe Biden had repeatedly asked the intelligence community to try and find out as much as possible about how the pandemic started.
“President Biden specifically requested that the national labs, which are part of the Energy Department, be brought into this assessment because he wants to put every tool at use to be able to figure out what happened here,” Mr Sullivan said.
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Around the world, there have been conflicting theories about whether the virus emerged naturally or came out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) official position according to a report released in 2021 is that it is “extremely unlikely” the virus came from the Wuhan lab, but did not completely rule it out.
It said the most likely explanation was that the virus originated in a bat before crossing to an intermediary animal and then jumping to humans.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus maintains that all possibly hypotheses as to the origin of the virus remain on the table and has called on Beijing to allow further investigation.
China has previously accused the US of politicising the investigation and “scapegoating” the country for the pandemic.