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US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Tuesday called on the World Health Organization to launch a second investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic as the “lab leak” theory gains traction.
Becerra said in a video message that the international organization must conduct a “transparent” probe after a widely panned initial WHO review controlled by China, which said the virus likely emerged naturally from animals.
“Phase 2 of the COVID origins study must be launched with terms of reference that are transparent, science-based and give international experts the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak,” Becerra said.
Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday said in an emailed statement he “was right” to pin the pandemic on China, which concealed early data on the outbreak.
“Now everybody is agreeing that I was right when I very early on called Wuhan as the source of COVID-19, sometimes referred to as the China Virus,” Trumps said. “To me it was obvious from the beginning but I was badly criticized, as usual. Now they are all saying ‘He was right.’”
Trump did not specifically endorse the lab leak theory while he was in office, but he said that it was a possibility.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that three employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell so ill that they were hospitalized in November 2019 — just before the first reported COVID-19 cases. The article cited “a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report.”
The Biden administration has been on the defensive about whether it’s doing enough to pressure China’s authoritarian government to be transparent.
Trump withdrew the US from the WHO last year, arguing the organization credulously accepted early Chinese data on the virus failed to alert the world before it spread. Biden unconditionally rejoined the WHO this year.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said the US has “no means” to confirm that the lab workers got sick in Wuhan, but that the US wants to find out more from China.
“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. We need that data, we need that information from the Chinese government,” she said.
The “lab release” theory has increasingly gained acceptance as a plausible explanation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medial adviser and the US government’s top infectious disease expert, said this month that he’s “not convinced” the deadly virus developed naturally and called for further investigation.
Former CDC Director Robert Redfield said in March that he believes the outbreak started at the Wuhan lab.
“I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory — you know, escaped. Other people don’t believe that. That’s fine,” Redfield said in a CNN interview. “Science will eventually figure it out. It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker.”
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