The Biden administration has renewed US calls for a fuller investigation into the origins of Covid-19, after a report from last weekend supported the theory that the disease was accidentally released from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Andy Slavitt, one of the US president’s coronavirus advisers, said on Tuesday that the research conducted by the World Health Organization last year had not done enough to explain how the disease first started to spread among people.
He spoke after a report in The Wall Street Journal claimed that three scientists at the Wuhan lab fell ill with Covid-19-like symptoms in November, a month before the first official case was reported.
Slavitt told reporters, “We need to get to the bottom of this and we need a fully transparent process from China. We need the WHO to help with that. We don’t feel like we have that now. We need to get to the bottom of this, whatever the answer may be, and that’s a critical priority for us. “
Scientists working for WHO last year found that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and that it was much more likely to be transmitted from animals to humans.
However, some scientists were quick to criticize that report, which was facilitated by China, while Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, admitted that it was not comprehensive enough. Tedros said WHO scientists had found it difficult to access “raw data” from China, which has always denied the hypothesis of a laboratory leak.
The World Health Assembly, which sets WHO policy, is currently holding its annual meeting in Geneva, where members are expected to discuss the next phase of the organization’s research.
The claims in the WSJ, meanwhile, have refocused attention on the lab leak theory. The paper reported that a previously undisclosed US intelligence report claimed that the three Wuhan Lab researchers became so ill in 2019 that they sought hospital care. On Monday, the White House said it had “no resources” to verify the report.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that he still believed the disease is more likely to have spread from animals to humans. “Many of us think it is more likely that this is a natural event, as has happened with Sars-Cov-1, where it goes from an animal reservoir to a human.”
However, he added, “But we don’t know 100 percent the answer to that…. [and] it is imperative that we watch and we do an investigation. “
On Monday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rejected the accuracy of the intelligence report, saying that no staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been infected before December 2019.
“What is the real purpose of the US to continue to play the so-called ‘lab leak theory’? Does it really care about the origin of the virus or just want to divert attention?” He asked.
Additional reporting from Christian Shepherd in Beijing