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the coronavirus crisis

'We'll probably never be able to prove' COVID-19 origins, U.S. official says

"If there was a smoking gun" on the origin of the novel coronavirus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party "buried it along with anyone who would dare speak up about it," a U.S. official told Josh Rogin in a Politico piece.

Rogin published a column in The Washington Post in April 2020 after someone leaked him cables sent in 2018 from American diplomats who visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They were concerned about lab safety and the fact that the lab's work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

Following up on the column a nearly year later for Politico, Rogin reports that U.S. officials grew increasingly convinced an accidental lab leak was a possible coronavirus origin story that at least deserved further investigation (Rogin writes that many politicians and journalists conflated this theory with the false notion that the virus was a Chinese bioweapon.) The WIV was open about their research on coronaviruses, but a senior Trump administration official told Rogin many officials in the State Department and National Security Council came to believe Chinese coronavirus researchers had been taking more risks than previously thought.

Of course, as tensions between the Trump White House and Beijing rose, the matter of the coronavirus' origins became increasingly politicized, so finger-pointing narratives should be viewed with scrutiny. But Rogin notes an under-the-radar study from a group of Beijing researchers released in July 2020 did lead U.S. officials to consider, after consultations with experts, that the Beijing lab was conducting coronavirus experiments on mice fitted with humanlike lung characteristics long before the outbreak began, suggesting similar practices may have taken place in at the WIV.

But it seems unlikely that the speculation will clarify anything. "We'll probably never be able to prove it one way or the other," the official told Rogin. Read more at Politico.