White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the U.S. will defer to the World Health Organization (WHO) when it comes to further investigation into the origins of COVID-19, despite the agency’s repeated failure to give credence to the lab-leak theory.
During a White House press briefing, Psaki was asked what role the Biden administration believes U.S. scientists or CDC scientists should play in any future investigations. Psaki said the WHO “would be the body that would be overseeing a transparent, independent phase 2 investigation.”
“That’s something we have strongly supported,” Psaki said. “That would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins.
“Of course the United States would be supportive of that second stage of the investigation, but it would be led by an international body,” she added.
“So the U.S. wouldn’t take a leading role essentially?” a reporter asked.
“The WHO, which we rejoined when the president took office, is the body that we have been pressing and is the appropriate body for moving this investigation forward,” Psaki said.
The WHO initially declared the lab-leak theory “extremely unlikely,” though the WHO chief, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in April that the research team’s probe into whether the virus might have escaped following a laboratory incident was not “extensive enough” and requires more investigation.
Meanwhile, Psaki said this week that the Biden administration has expressed both publicly and privately that the Chinese government was “not transparent from the beginning.”
On Sunday, a Wall Street Journal report revealed that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were hospitalized in November 2019, around the time that COVID-19 may have begun spreading in Wuhan, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment. One intelligence official warned that the report needed additional verification, while another said it was significant.
The report calls into question the timeline China has given for the emergence of the virus, since Beijing claimed that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was recorded on December 8, 2019, in Wuhan.
China has repeatedly denied that the illness escaped from the lab. However, scientists around the world have expressed concern that the lab-leak theory has not been properly investigated, given the limitations placed on investigators by Beijing. The WIV has refused to share data logs and other records for an investigation into a potential lab leak.
House Republicans sent a letter to President Biden last week calling for an investigation and highlighting past examples of diseases leaking from Chinese labs.
“International efforts to discover the true source of the virus, however, have been stymied by a lack of cooperation from the People’s Republic of China,” House Republicans said. “Nevertheless, significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been a leak.”