‘Jury Is Still Out’: US Withholding Judgment After WHO Says COVID Did Not Leak From Wuhan Lab

Patrick Goodenough | February 10, 2021 | 4:31am EST
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Chinese security personnel outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan during a visit by WHO experts investigating the origins of the coronavirus earlier this month. (Photo by Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)
Chinese security personnel outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan during a visit by WHO experts investigating the origins of the coronavirus earlier this month. (Photo by Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The Biden administration reacted cautiously Tuesday to the decision by World Health Organization experts investigating the source of the coronavirus to discount the possibility that it leaked from a laboratory.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. wants to see the team’s report of its findings, examine the data for itself, and cross reference it with information held by the U.S., including the intelligence community.

Members of the team, which has spent the last month in Wuhan, have said the Chinese granted them access to all of the sites and personnel they asked to see, but Price would not be drawn on whether the administration feels China has been sufficiently transparent with the investigation.

“I think the jury is still out,” he told a briefing at the department. “I think, clearly, the Chinese – at least heretofore – had not offered the requisite transparency that we need, and that just as importantly again, the international community needs, so that we can prevent these sorts of pandemics from ever happening again.”

"We clearly support this investigation. We recognize there is an urgent need for an investigation,” he said. “But I wouldn’t want to be conclusive yet about any sort of cooperation that the WHO may or may not have received from China.”

The Trump administration last year began the process of withdrawing from the WHO after critics accused it of behaving in a submissive, even obsequious manner towards China rather than pressing it to respond more quickly, effectively and transparently to the outbreak that emerged in Wuhan in late 2019.

President Biden has reversed the move, but without wielding the leverage the U.S. enjoys as the agency’s largest funder to demand reforms first.

Price placed the decision to remain in the WHO in the context of the administration’s broader view of the importance of engagement.

“Across the board the United States believes as a general matter that when we engage, when we are at the table, we can help shape world events, we can help shape institutions,” he said.

“Clearly, by re-engaging with the WHO, the United States will be in a position to push any necessary needed reforms. And to be clear, there are necessary and needed reforms,” Price said. “Just as any institution, or just about any institution, the WHO is far from perfect. That is precisely why we re-engaged it.”

‘Significant evidence’

At a briefing in Wuhan on Tuesday, members of the team experts said they were ruling out as “extremely unlikely” the hypothesis – hotly disputed by the Chinese government – that the outbreak may have been sparked by the accidental leak of a coronavirus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), and that they would not advise further study along those lines.

Asked whether the U.S. agreed that the WIV line of inquiry should be stopped, Price said again the State Department wants to see the team’s report and “the underlying data.”

We intend to marry that underlying data with what is in our own broader holdings, to include within our intelligence community,” he said. “We are going to base our conclusions on nothing other than the data, nothing other than the science. And based on that, we’ll come to a conclusion.”

“We will work with our partners and also draw on information collected and analyzed by our own intelligence community to evaluate the report, once we’ve received it, as well as the data from the WHO evaluation,” Price said.

Less than a month ago the State Department then led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a fact sheet drawing attention to unanswered questions about the WIV, which is China’s specialist lab studying pathogens including bat and human coronaviruses.

The lab in Wuhan has carried out research in recent years on a bat coronavirus (known as RaTG13), sampled from bat feces in a Chinese cave seven years ago, and which early last year WIV’s own researchers reported was 96.2 percent similar genetically to the virus that causes COVID-19.

In its January 15 fact sheet, the department raised questions about the RaTG13 research, and claimed that several researchers at WIV had fallen ill in the fall of 2019, “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

The fact sheet did not definitely charge that the lab was linked to the outbreak, but citing the Chinese Communist Party’s secretiveness and obsession with control, it said the questions around the WIV deserved greater scrutiny.

Pompeo on Tuesday maintained his stance.

“I continue to know that there was significant evidence, Bill, that this may well have come from that laboratory,” he told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer.

“I hope [the team of experts] got to see all the data, all the science, into the lab, talk to the doctors, interview them – interview them in private, in places where they could actually tell the truth about what took place, not under the supervision of a Communist Party person sitting in the back of the room making sure that they toed the Communist Party line,” Pompeo said.

“So nothing has changed in your view that it came from the lab?” Hemmer asked.

“Not a thing.”

See also:
WHO Virus-Origin Investigators Discount Wuhan Lab Leak Theory, Won’t Pursue It Further  (Feb. 9, 2021)
Pompeo: ‘Enormous Evidence’ Coronavirus Came From Wuhan Lab; China Must Allow Experts In (May 4, 2020)

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