Chat with us, powered by LiveChat should focus on connecting the concepts learned in the 2 modules and readings to your experiences in everyday life (e.g., conversations with family and friends or things you see/read/ | Wridemy

should focus on connecting the concepts learned in the 2 modules and readings to your experiences in everyday life (e.g., conversations with family and friends or things you see/read/

  should focus on connecting the concepts learned in the 2 modules and readings to your experiences in everyday life (e.g., conversations with family and friends or things you see/read/hear in the news, popular culture, or other media). You should display evidence of critical thinking (e.g., What did the experience make you think about with regards to topics covered?) and should bring in specific concepts or theories presented in the course content. You should not quote the original materials, or summarize the materials, rather you should write in a reflective manner and include in text citations to identify which materials you are referring to as well. 

[ 1 ]

Updated Assessment on COVID-19 Origins

Key Takeaways

Scope Note: This assessment responds to the President’s request that the Intelligence Community (IC) update its previous judgments

on the origins of COVID-19. It also identifies areas for possible additional research. Annexes include a lexicon, additional details on

methodology, and comments from outside experts. This assessment is based on information through August 2021.

The IC assesses that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, probably emerged and infected humans

through an initial small-scale exposure that occurred no later than November 2019 with the first known cluster of

COVID-19 cases arising in Wuhan, China in December 2019. In addition, the IC was able to reach broad

agreement on several other key issues. We judge 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. Finally, the IC assesses

China’s officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.

After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information, though, the IC remains divided on the

most likely origin of COVID-19. All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an

infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.

 Four IC elements and the National Intelligence Council assess with low confidence that the initial SARS-CoV-2

infection was most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus—a

virus that probably would be more than 99 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2. These analysts give weight to

China’s officials’ lack of foreknowledge, the numerous vectors for natural exposure, and other factors.

 One IC element assesses with moderate confidence that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most

likely was the result of a laboratory-associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal

handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. These analysts give weight to the inherently risky

nature of work on coronaviruses.

 Analysts at three IC elements remain unable to coalesce around either explanation without additional

information, with some analysts favoring natural origin, others a laboratory origin, and some seeing the

hypotheses as equally likely.

 Variations in analytic views largely stem from differences in how agencies weigh intelligence reporting and

scientific publications and intelligence and scientific gaps.

The IC judges they will be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless new

information allows them to determine the specific pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to determine

that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged.

 The IC—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.

[ 2 ]

China’s cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19.

Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information, and blame other

countries, including the United States. These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about

where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert

political pressure on China.

[ 3 ]

[ 4 ]


The IC has prepared several assessments examining the

origins of COVID-19. Analysts have focused on whether

SARS-CoV-2, the causative virus of COVID-19, was

genetically engineered—particularly as a biological

weapon—was transmitted to humans naturally or

transmitted due to a laboratory-associated incident,

perhaps during sampling or experimentation. China’s

reaction to and handling of the pandemic have given

analysts insights into these issues, but Beijing’s actions

have also impeded the global scientific community and

our ability to confidently determine how the virus first

infected humans.

SARS-CoV-2 Probably Not a

Biological Weapon

The IC assesses China did not develop SARS-CoV-2 as a

biological weapon.

 We remain skeptical of allegations that SARS-CoV-2

was a biological weapon because they are supported

by scientifically invalid claims, their proponents do

not have direct access to the Wuhan Institute of

Virology (WIV), or their proponents are suspected of

spreading disinformation. [See appendix B.]

Most Analysts Assess SARS-CoV-2 Not

Genetically Engineered

Most IC analysts assess with low confidence that SARS-

CoV-2 was not genetically engineered. Their assessment

is based on technical analysis of SARS-CoV-2 and the

IC’s growing understanding of traits and the potential for

recombination in other coronaviruses. Two agencies

believe there is not sufficient evidence to make an

assessment either way.

 As of August 2021, we still have not observed

genetic signatures in SARS-CoV-2 that would be

diagnostic of genetic engineering, according to the

IC’s understanding of the virus. Similarly, we have

not identified any existing coronavirus strains that

could have plausibly served as a backbone if

SARS-CoV-2 had been genetically engineered.

 Our growing understanding of the similarities of

SARS-CoV-2 to other coronaviruses in nature and

the ability of betacoronaviruses—the genus to which

SARS-CoV-2 belongs—to naturally recombine

suggests SARS-CoV-2 was not genetically

engineered. For instance, academic literature has

noted that in some instances betacoronaviruses have

recombined with other viruses in nature and that

furin cleavage sites (FCS)—a region in the spike

protein that enhances infection—have been

identified in naturally occurring coronaviruses in the

same genetic location as the FCS in SARS-CoV-2.

This suggests that SARS-CoV-2 or a progenitor virus

could have acquired its FCS through natural

recombination with another virus.

IC analysts do not have higher confidence that SARS-

CoV-2 was not genetically engineered because some

genetic engineering techniques can make modifications

difficult to identify and we have gaps in our knowledge of

naturally occurring coronaviruses.

 Some genetic engineering techniques may make

genetically modified viruses indistinguishable from

natural viruses, according to academic journal

articles. For instance, a 2017 dissertation by a

WIV student showed that reverse genetic cloning

techniques—which are standard techniques used in

advanced molecular laboratories—left no trace of

genetic modification of SARS-like coronaviruses.

 It will be difficult to increase our confidence that

the distinguishing features in SARS-CoV-2

emerged naturally without a better understanding

of the diversity of coronaviruses in nature and how

often recombination occurs during co-infection of

multiple coronaviruses within a particular host.

For example, academic literature has indicated that

a FCS had previously been inserted into

SARS-CoV-1, the causative agent of SARS,

complicating differentiation of how such a feature

may have appeared.

[ 5 ]

 The WIV previously created chimeras, or

combinations, of SARS-like coronaviruses, but

this information does not provide insight into

whether SARS-CoV-2 was genetically engineered

by the WIV.

No IC analysts assess that SARS-CoV-2 was the result of

laboratory adaptation, although some analysts do not

have enough information to make this determination.

Repeated passage of a closely related virus through

animals or cell culture—which we consider laboratory

adaptation and not genetic engineering—could result in

some features of SARS-CoV-2, according to publicly

available information. However, it probably would take

years of laboratory adaptation using the appropriate cell

types and a virus that is more closely related to SARS-

CoV-2 than ones currently known to generate the number

of mutations separating SARS-CoV-2 from any known

coronavirus strains, judging from scientific journal

articles. Such processes would require differentiation and

maintenance of primary cells and the development of

appropriate animal models.

[ 6 ]

China’s Lack of Foreknowledge

of SARS-CoV-2

The IC assesses China’s officials probably did not have

foreknowledge that SARS-CoV-2 existed before WIV

researchers isolated it after public recognition of the virus

in the general population. Accordingly, if the pandemic

originated from a laboratory-associated incident, they

probably were unaware in the initial months that such an

incident had occurred.

 Early in the pandemic, the WIV identified that a

new virus was responsible for the outbreak in

Wuhan. It is therefore assessed that WIV

researchers pivoted to COVID-19-related work to

address the outbreak and characterize the virus.

These activities suggest that WIV personnel were

unaware of the existence of SARS-CoV-2 until the

outbreak was underway.

Two Plausible Hypotheses of

Pandemic Origin

IC analysts assess that a natural origin and a laboratory-

associated incident are both plausible hypotheses for

how SARS-CoV-2 first infected humans. Analysts,

however, disagree on which is more likely, or whether

an assessment can be made at all, given the lack of

diagnosticity of the available information. Most

agencies are unable to make higher than low confidence

assessments for these reasons, and confidence levels are

tempered by plausible arguments for the opposing

hypothesis. For these hypotheses, IC analysts consider

an exposure that occurs during animal sampling activity

that supports biological research to be a laboratory-

associated incident and not natural contact. What

follows is a look at the cases that can be made for these

competing hypotheses.

The Case for the Natural Origin Hypothesis

Some IC analysts assess with low confidence that the

first human COVID-19 infection most likely was caused

by natural exposure to an animal that carried SARS-

CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus—a virus that would

likely be more than 99 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2.

Four IC elements, the National Intelligence Council,

and some analysts at elements that are unable to

coalesce around either explanation are among this

group. Analysts at these agencies give weight to China’s

officials' lack of foreknowledge and highlight the

precedent of past novel infectious disease outbreaks

having zoonotic origins, the wide diversity of animals

that are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, and the

range of scenarios—to include animal trafficking,

farming, sale, and rescue—in China that enable zoonotic

transmission. Although no confirmed animal source of

SARS-CoV-2 has been identified, to include a reservoir or

intermediate species, analysts that assess the pandemic

was due to natural causes note that in many previous

zoonotic outbreaks, the identification of animal sources

has taken years, and in some cases, animal sources have

not been identified.

 These analysts assess that WIV’s activities in early

2020 related to SARS-CoV-2 are a strong indicator

that the WIV lacked foreknowledge of the virus.

 They also see the potential that a laboratory worker

inadvertently was infected while collecting

unknown animal specimens to be less likely than

an infection occurring through numerous hunters,

farmers, merchants, and others who have frequent,

natural contact with animals.

 Given China’s poor public health infrastructure

and the potential for asymptomatic infection,

some analysts that lean towards a natural origin

argue that China’s infectious disease surveillance

system would not have been able to detect the

SARS-CoV-2 exposure as quickly as a suspected

exposure in a laboratory setting.

History of Zoonotic Pathogen Emergence,

Conditions in China Ripe for Zoonotic Spillover

Analysts that find the natural zoonotic spillover

hypothesis the most likely explanation for the pandemic

also note the wide diversity of animals that are

susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, range of

scenarios—to include animal trafficking, farming, sale,

and rescue—in China that would enable zoonotic

[ 7 ]

transmission, and precedent of novel human infectious

disease outbreaks originating from zoonotic

transmission. Previous human coronavirus outbreaks, to

include SARS-CoV-1 and Middle East Respiratory

Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), occurred naturally

and were linked to animal reservoirs with zoonotic

transmission to humans, according to scientific literature.

 Extensive wildlife and livestock farming, wildlife

trafficking, and live animal markets in China and

historically lax government regulation—and even

promotion—of these activities increase the

probability that initial transmission occurred along

one of these routes.

 Academic literature has revealed Wuhan markets

sold live mammals and dozens of species—including

raccoon dogs, masked palm civets, and a variety of

other mammals, birds, and reptiles—often in poor

conditions where viruses can jump among species,

facilitating recombination events and the acquisition

of novel mutations. SARS-CoV-2 can infect a range

of mammals, including cats, dogs, pangolins, minks,

raccoon dogs, and a variety of wild and domestic

animals, according to academic literature.

 Wider Hubei Province has extensive farming and

breeding of animals that are susceptible to

SARS-CoV-2, including minks and raccoon dogs.

[ 8 ]

These analysts note that there is a precedent for viral

vectors to travel long distances in China and cause

infection elsewhere because of transportation and trade

nodes, thereby widening and complicating the search for

the specific zoonotic spillover incident. For instance, the

bat coronavirus that is currently the closest known

relative to the original SARS-CoV-1 was identified in

Yunnan Province, even though the first SARS outbreak

detected in humans occurred in Guangdong Province,

hundreds of kilometers away.

The Case for the Laboratory-Associated

Incident Hypothesis

One IC element assesses with moderate confidence that

COVID-19 most likely resulted from a laboratory-

associated incident involving WIV or other

researchers—either through exposure to the virus during

experiments or through sampling. Some analysts at

elements that are unable to coalesce around either

explanation also assess a laboratory origin with low

confidence. These analysts place emphasis on academic

articles authored by WIV employees indicating that WIV

scientists conducted research on other coronaviruses

under what these analysts consider to be inadequate

biosafety conditions that could have led to opportunities

for a laboratory-associated incident. These analysts also

take into account SARS-CoV-2’s genetic epidemiology

and that the initial recorded COVID-19 clusters occurred

only in Wuhan—and that WIV researchers who

conducted sampling activity throughout China provided

a node for the virus to enter the city.

WIV Research Includes Work With Animals That

Carry Relatives of SARS-CoV-2

The analysts that find the laboratory-associated origin

theory most likely assess that WIV researchers’ inherently

risky work with coronaviruses provided numerous

opportunities for them to unwittingly become infected

with SARS-CoV-2. Although the IC has no indications

that WIV research involved SARS-CoV-2 or a close

progenitor virus, these analysts note that it is plausible

that researchers may have unwittingly exposed

themselves to the virus without sequencing it during

experiments or sampling activities, possibly resulting in

asymptomatic or mild infection. Academic literature

indicates that WIV researchers conducted research with

bat coronaviruses or collected samples from species that

are known to carry close relatives of SARS-CoV-2.

 Based on currently available information, the closest

known relatives to SARS-CoV-2 in bats have been

identified in Yunnan Province, and researchers

bringing samples to laboratories provide a plausible

link between these habitats and the city.

 These analysts also note that China’s investigations

into the pandemic’s origin might not uncover

evidence of a laboratory-associated incident if it

involved only a small number of researchers who

did not acknowledge or have knowledge of a

potential infection.

Biosafety Conditions for Specific Work Could

Have Led to an Incident

The analysts that assess COVID-19 most likely

originated from a laboratory-associated incident also

place emphasis on information suggesting researchers in

China used biosafety practices that increased the risk of

exposure to viruses. Academic publications suggest that

WIV researchers did not use adequate biosafety

precautions at least some of the time, increasing the risk

of a laboratory-associated incident.

WIV Illnesses in Fall 2019 Not Diagnostic

The IC assesses that information indicating that

several WIV researchers reported symptoms

consistent with COVID-19 in autumn 2019 is not

diagnostic of the pandemic’s origins. Even if

confirmed, hospital admission alone would not be

diagnostic of COVID-19 infection.

[ 9 ]

The Role of the Huanan Seafood

Wholesale Market

Some scientists and China’s public health officials

have shifted their view on the role of the Huanan

Seafood Wholesale Market in the pandemic since

early 2020. Some now view the market as a

potential site of community spread rather than

where the initial human infection may have occurred.

 On January 1, 2020, China’s security

authorities shut down the market after several

workers fell ill in late December 2019. China

focused early source tracing on the market and

Hubei Province; association with the market

was included as part of the early case definition.

 In January 2020, a scientific article that

described clinical features of initial

COVID-19 infections in China found that

some COVID-19 patients did not have any

known association with the market.

Furthermore, there continues to be conflicting

data with some academic articles and preprints

noting that phylogenetic analysis of the

available data on the earliest cases suggests

that the progenitor virus may not have

originated from the market.

China’s Transparency Key to Determining

COVID-19 Origin

The IC judges that closing persistent information gaps on

the origins of COVID-19 is very likely to require greater

transparency and collaboration from Beijing. The

scientific community lacks technical data on a reservoir

species, possible intermediate species, and closer

relatives to SARS-CoV-2.

Data and Samples From Initial Cases: The global

scientific community does not know exactly where,

when, or how the first human infection with

SARS-CoV-2 occurred. It lacks a complete picture of

the initial cases in Wuhan—or potentially elsewhere in

China—that would allow it to better understand

potential sources of infection or conduct phylogenetic

analysis that would help validate both hypotheses.

Information That Would Confirm Natural Outbreak:

Searching for a natural reservoir or potential

intermediate host requires collecting, isolating, and

sequencing viruses from samples taken from potential

host species and environments to search for viruses

related to SARS-CoV-2, endeavors that require

international collaboration, resources, and time.

 Information that the earliest confirmed COVID-19

cases were in individuals or families who spent

time in rural regions or who were involved in

animal trade or environments that facilitate close

human-to-animal interactions could indicate that

the virus was circulating within an animal reservoir

and a zoonotic spillover event caused the first

COVID-19 case in humans.

 However, some transmission pathways are

fleeting, meaning an animal acquires a virus and

evidence of infection vanishes, particularly if the

animals are reared and harvested for agricultural

or commercial purposes.

Information That Would Confirm Laboratory-

Associated Incident: China’s coronavirus research or

related information from origins investigations by

Beijing or international organizations could provide

clear indications of a laboratory-associated incident or at

least yield some new insights.

[ 10 ]

WIV’s Publicly Available

Coronavirus Research

IC analysts are examining published research from

China for any indicators that would inform our

understanding of COVID-19’s origins. The WIV

and other research groups in China published

coronavirus articles in 2020 and 2021, including the

discovery of the closest known relative of

SARS-CoV-2, but at least some relevant data on

coronaviruses of interest has either been unavailable

or has not been published.

Although the WIV described the sampling trip to

the mineshaft in Mojiang in Yunnan Province

where it collected RaTG13 in 2016, it did not

explicitly state that RaTG13 was collected from

that mine until 2020. Similarly, the WIV collected

eight other coronaviruses from the same mine in

2015 that it did not fully disclose until 2021. In

some of these instances, however, the WIV has

described unpublished work in webinars and

interviews prior to publishing.

China Likely To Impede Investigation

The IC judges they will be unable to provide a more

definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless

new information allows them to determine the specific

pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to

determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling


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