White House pushes for independent investigation on COVID-19 origins
The White House on Monday said that officials cannot draw a conclusion about the origins of COVID-19 without an independent investigation and more data from China.
“We are and we have repeatedly called for the [World Health Organization] WHO to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic’s origins that is free from interference and politicization,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing Monday.
Psaki also insisted that officials would not leap “ahead of an actual international process. We don’t have enough data and information to jump to a conclusion at this point in time.”
Psaki was asked repeatedly about a new Wall Street Journal report that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were so sick that they sought care in a hospital in November 2019. The report has fueled questions about whether the novel coronavirus may have originated in a lab leak scenario rather than coming from an animal, the latter of which scientists have believed was the most likely scenario.
Psaki said the White House has “no means” of confirming or denying The Wall Street Journal’s report. She also would not comment on the reported source of the article being a U.S. intelligence report.
“It doesn’t mean we can draw a conclusion. We don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion about the origins. There is a need to look into a range of options. We need data, we need an independent investigation, and that’s what we’ve been calling for,” Psaki told reporters.
Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner under former President Trump, said on CNBC on Monday that the amount of circumstantial evidence pointing to the lab scenario was growing. He also said it was unlikely the U.S. would ever know for certain that the virus came out of a lab if that indeed was the case.
Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases expert who has cast doubt on the lab theory, said earlier this month that he was not convinced the disease developed in nature and that it should continue to be a subject of investigation.
A WHO-led report issued earlier this year found that the coronavirus most likely jumped from animals to humans and labeled the lab leak theory “extremely unlikely.” The report was written jointly with Chinese scientists.
Still, the Biden administration and others have raised concerns about the independence of the report and the lack of access to data from China from the early days of the outbreak in 2019. The White House previously called for a new independent, expert-driven investigation led by the WHO.
When the report was released in March, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a statement saying that WHO was not ruling out any theories on the virus’s origins and that the report was only the beginning of the quest to find the source of the virus.