What the lab-leak theory’s new credibility means for social media

In a statement Wednesday, Biden said the intelligence community had yet to reach a definitive conclusion on how the virus, which sparked a pandemic and has killed nearly 3.5 million people globally, originated in China. He ordered the agencies to report back to him in 90 days.

“I have now asked the intelligence community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion,” the President said.

Biden’s statement comes amid a surge in interest in the lab-leak theory — once dismissed as a fringe conspiracy. The focus on the lab has been fueled, in part, by a new US intelligence report that several Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with symptoms consistent with the virus in November 2019, a month before the first Covid-19 cases were reported. The evidence has renewed criticism of a World Health Organization probe conducted in collaboration with Chinese scientists earlier this year and spurred demands from top health officials for a more transparent, scientific inquiry.

The mystery over the outbreak’s origins has explosive political implications for the world, as well as the dueling legacies of two presidents that will be defined by the pandemic, Stephen Collinson writes.
Earlier this week, CNN reported that Biden’s team shut down a probe launched late in the Trump administration to prove Covid-19 came from the Chinese lab over concerns about the quality of its work. While the State Department later said the inquiry had simply been completed, several sources involved who spoke to CNN said it was their impression more work should be done. The Biden administration is now facing calls to show it took the possibility of Chinese culpability sufficiently seriously.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q: How has the lab-leak theory become credible and what does it mean for social media?

A: While the possibility that the coronavirus emerged from a Chinese lab was originally downplayed or dismissed entirely, the idea is gaining new credence.

There are several reasons for this shift. First, investigations into whether a natural origin or an accidental lab leak caused the coronavirus pandemic have yielded no firm conclusions. Second, the lab leak hypothesis was initially confused with conspiracies that the virus was intentionally created as a bioweapon, which made it easy to discount as disinformation. But a lack of transparency from Chinese authorities and fresh intelligence from the Wuhan lab have led scientists and top health officials to reconsider the potential link.

The renewed debate over the virus’ origins poses a problem for social media companies, which have faced intense pressure to crack down on misinformation throughout the pandemic. As support grows in Washington for a more expansive investigation into Covid-19’s origins, Facebook has said it will no longer take down posts claiming that the coronavirus was man-made. The company announced in February it would remove any such claims after “consultations with leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization.”

Other social platforms including Twitter have changed or expanded policies to address Covid-19 origin claims, but Facebook’s decision marks the first move to revisit the rules as the lab-leak theory gains traction.

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WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

Vaccine tourists are coming to America

Travel demand from Latin American countries to the US has increased in 2021, fueled by growing interest in “vaccine tourism,” according to some travel and health experts.

CNN spoke with travelers from Peru and Mexico who said they were not asked for proof of residency in the US at vaccination centers and some of them showed their national identity cards or passports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says “jurisdictions cannot add United States citizenship requirements or require United States citizenship verification as a condition for vaccination.”

“If you have the opportunity to do it, it is crazy not to do it … The virus is surrounding us,” Peruvian Flavio San Martin said.

Immunity to Covid-19 could be long lasting

Several new studies have pointed to the possibility that immunity to the coronavirus could be long-lasting. Taken together, the findings may help alleviate concerns that protection against the virus for people is short-lived.

A study by researchers from LabCorp, a national clinical laboratory, found that as many as 9 in 10 people infected with Covid-19 develop immunity against the virus that is “sustained with little decay through ten months.” And 90% of individuals in the study developed antibodies to Covid-19 within three weeks, according to the report, which appeared on Monday in EClinicalMedicine, an open access journal published by The Lancet.

UK’s pandemic response ripped apart as cases of Indian variant surge

The man who served as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser at the height of the coronavirus pandemic has apologized publicly for the UK government’s response to the crisis, which he said fell “disastrously short” of what the public should expect, Luke McGee writes.

Dominic Cummings, who quit his post in Downing Street last November, said on the record that he had personally heard Johnson say that he would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose more lockdowns on the public. Downing Street has repeatedly denied that any such comment was made. To date, more then 127,000 British citizens have died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.

The damning revelation comes amid growing concerns over rising cases and hospitalizations in the UK, as the Covid-19 variant first identified in India spreads. Cases of the B1.617.2 strain rose by over 160% in the week up to May 19, according to the latest Public Health England (PHE) data. And, for the first time since April 12, the country surpassed 3,000 daily cases with 3,180 new infections recorded on Wednesday along with nine deaths, according to the latest government data.

ON OUR RADAR

  • Data obtained exclusively by CNN shows that interest in getting vaccinated against Covid-19 increased after the CDC director announced that vaccinated Americans could take off their masks.
  • A new study has found that most severe Covid-19 cases had long-term symptoms, underscoring the importance of vaccinating more people.
  • Four young adults in France have been found guilty of “public insult of racist nature and incitement to commit a crime” by a Paris court for publishing anti-Asian tweets blaming Chinese people for the spread of coronavirus.
  • A doctor representing a Japanese medical body warned Thursday that holding the Tokyo Olympics could lead to the spread of Covid-19 variants.

TOP TIPS

It’s Memorial Day Weekend. What’s safe to do?

As the US marks Memorial Day Weekend and the start of summer, many people are planning to travel to places they haven’t been in a year, see friends again, and go to baseball games, concerts and more.

With coronavirus infections dropping around the country and more than 50% of adults fully vaccinated, are most activities now safe? Can we get together with our extended family and friends? What if we’re vaccinated but some of our loved ones are not — and does it matter if they are adults or children? Are there situations in which we still need to keep our masks on? CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy, has the answers to all your questions.

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