White House insists COVID-19 origins requires 'transparent' international investigation
Several workers at Wuhan Institute of Virology reportedly fell ill in November 2019
The White House is continuing to call for a "transparent" international investigation into the origins of COVID-19, while maintaining that the Biden administration does not yet have enough data to draw a conclusion on the matter.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday was asked about a report in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend which suggested 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 the workers required hospital care for their illnesses, which caused symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
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A former Trump State Department official confirmed that workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill, but would not comment on "purported intelligence matters."
Psaki did not comment on the Journal report, but instead made clear that the White House is committed to getting answers through an "expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic's origins that is free from interference or politicization."
Psaki referenced the "phase one" results of the World Health Organization's investigation into the origins of COVID-19, saying the White House did not have "access to data."
"Now we're hopeful that we can move into a more transparent, independent Phase two investigation," Psaki said, again calling for "access to the underlying data and information."
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"An international investigation led by the World Health Organization is something that we've actually been pressing for for several months in coordination with a range of partners around the world," Psaki continued. "We need that data. We need that information from the Chinese government. What we can't do, and what I would caution anyone from doing, is leaping ahead of an actual international process."
She added: "We don't have enough data and information to jump to a conclusion at this point in time."
Last month, the WHO and China released a report that dismissed claims that COVID-19 had escaped from the lab in Wuhan, and called the theory of zoonotic transmission, or transfer of infection from animals to humans, "likely to very likely."
The report called the prospect that the virus transmitted from an animal reservoir to an animal host, followed by subsequent spread within that intermediate host that then transmits it to humans, "likely to very likely." It also said the idea that the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology "extremely unlikely."
The report called for further investigation in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.
At the time of its release, Psaki said the report lacked crucial information and provided just a "partial, incomplete picture" of the virus' origin.
Psaki last month called on China and the WHO to allow international experts "unfettered access" to data and to allow them to ask questions of people on the ground at the time of the outbreak. Psaki said that U.S. medical experts are still reviewing the report, but the White House believed it did not "meet the moment."
Even WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the time, said the research team’s assessment on whether coronavirus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident was not "extensive enough."
But on Monday Psaki said that the White House is committed to getting to the bottom of the matter.
"I have to say, I think the family members of the loved ones whose lives have been lost deserve accurate information data, not the jumping to a conclusion without having the information necessary to conclude what the origins are," Psaki said. "What we do share, everyone in this country, is a desire to know how this started, where it started, and prevent it from ever happening again. That's something we all share."
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is one of China's top virus research labs, built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and has faced criticism over its transparency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
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China has promoted unproven theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere, or even been brought into the country from overseas with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion rejected by international scientists and agencies.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee say there is "significant circumstantial evidence" that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from a leak at the Wuhan lab and is urging the federal government to put "more pressure on China" to allow for a "full, credible investigation" into the source of the global pandemic.
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Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said earlier this month that "we should continue to investigate what went on 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.