The White House continues to call for a “transparent” international investigation into the origins of COVID-19, while arguing that the Biden administration does not yet have enough data to draw a conclusion on the matter.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked on Monday about a Wall Street Journal report over the weekend suggesting that several workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in mid-November 2019. The Journal, citing a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report, went further, saying workers needed hospital care for their illnesses, which was causing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
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A former Trump State Department official confirmed that workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had fallen ill, but would not comment on the “alleged intelligence matters.”
Psaki did not comment on the Journal report, but instead clarified that the White House is committed to obtaining answers through an “expert assessment of the origins of the pandemic, without interference or politicization.”
Psaki referred to the results of the “first phase” of the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19, saying the White House does not have “access to the data.”
“We now hope to be able to move to a more transparent and independent phase two investigation,” Psaki said, again calling for “access to the data and the underlying information”.
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“An international survey conducted by the World Health Organization is something that we have been pushing for several months in coordination with a series of partners around the world,” Psaki continued. “We need this data. We need this information from the Chinese government. What we cannot do, and what I would caution anyone to do, is get ahead of a real international process. ”
She added: “We don’t have enough data and information to come to a conclusion at this point. “
Last month, the WHO and China released a report that dismissed claims that COVID-19 had escaped from the Wuhan laboratory and called the theory zoonotic transmission, or the transfer of infection. from animals to humans, from “probably very likely”.
The report called the prospect of the virus spreading from an animal reservoir to an animal host, followed by further spread within that intermediate host which then transmits it to humans, “probably to very likely.” He also said that the idea that the virus could have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology was “extremely unlikely.”
The report called for further investigation in all areas except the laboratory leak hypothesis.
At the time of publication, Psaki said the report lacked crucial information and provided only a “partial and incomplete picture” of the origin of the virus.
Psaki last month called on China and the WHO to allow international experts “unfettered access” to data and allow them to ask questions of people on the ground at the time of the outbreak. Psaki said US medical experts were still reviewing the report, but the White House believed he had “not met the moment.”
Even WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the time said the research team’s assessment of whether the coronavirus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident was not “sufficiently extensive”.
But on Monday, Psaki said the White House is committed to getting to the bottom of this.
“I have to say that I think the family members of loved ones whose lives have been lost deserve accurate information data, not jumping to a conclusion without having the information to conclude what the origins are,” Psaki said. “What we share, everyone in this country, is the desire to know how it started, where it started, and to prevent it from happening again. It’s something we all share. ”
Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is one of China’s top virus research laboratories, has built an archive of genetic information on bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome and has been criticized for being transparent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
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China has promoted unproven theories that the virus could originate elsewhere, or even have been brought into the country from abroad with imports of frozen seafood contaminated with the virus, a notion rejected by scientists and international agencies.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee say there is “significant circumstantial evidence” that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from a Wuhan lab leak and urge the federal government to put “more pressure on China “to allow a” full, credible investigation “into the source of the global pandemic.
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The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, said earlier this month that “we should keep investigating what happened in China until we continue. to find out to the best of our ability what happened ”.
Fox News’ Pat Ward, Rich Edson, Morgan Phillips, Edmund DeMarche and The Associated Press contributed to this report.