US has ‘no means’ to confirm if Wuhan lab workers got sick prior to COVID outbreak, Psaki says
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the US has “no means” to confirm that lab workers in Wuhan, China, fell ill shortly before the first reported cases of COVID-19 — while fending off questions about why the US doesn’t do more to probe the pandemic’s origins.
Psaki said “in terms of the report, which is specifically about individuals being hospitalized, we have no means of confirming that or denying that. I mean, it’s not a report from the United States.”
Psaki was responding to an article in the Wall Street Journal that said three employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell so ill that they were hospitalized in November 2019. The article cited “a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report.”
When Reuters journalist Jeff Mason pointed out to Psaki that the Journal cited a US report, she said, “Well, I don’t have any — I don’t have anything more on the US intelligence report from here.”
Psaki rebuffed a separate inquiry from Fox News reporter Peter Doocy about why President Biden doesn’t do more to force a thorough investigation of the origins of COVID-19, after a widely panned World Health Organization review that concluded the virus likely emerged from animals. That review was tightly controlled by China.
Doocy asked Psaki why Biden, who often speaks of his close relationship as vice president with Chinese President Xi Jinping, doesn’t call Xi to demand transparency.
Psaki sidestepped the question and instead focused on an argument that China’s participation is necessary, along with “a range of partners around the world.”
“You’re misunderstanding how this process actually works. 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.
Doocy followed up, “So is there any amount of casualties from COVID in this country that would make you want to not wait for an international effort?”
Psaki said, “I think the family members of the loved ones whose lives have been lost and deserve accurate information, data, not the jumping to a conclusion without having the information necessary to conclude what the origins are.”
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the WHO last year, arguing the organization credulously accepted early Chinese data on the virus and failed to alert the world before it spread. Biden unconditionally rejoined the WHO this year.
Biden has had just one publicly acknowledged call with Xi since taking office. According to a White House readout of the February call, the leaders “exchanged views on countering the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shared challenges of global health security.” The readout did not indicate that Biden pressed Xi to be more transparent about the pandemic’s origins.
Although the “lab release” theory of COVID-19 once was viewed skeptically by experts, it has increasingly gained acceptance as a plausible explanation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medial adviser and the 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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