White House Criticizes WHO Virus Report for Lack of Data, Access
(Bloomberg) -- The White House criticized a World Health Organization report on the origins of the coronavirus, calling it incomplete and faulting data and access provided to its authors by China.
President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Tuesday at a briefing that he “believes the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors, all of the people who have been working to save lives, the families who have lost loved ones, all deserve greater transparency.”
“They deserve better information,” she said. “They deserve steps taken by the global community to provide that.”
She said a team of U.S. government experts is reviewing the report, released Tuesday, but it “lacks crucial data, information and access. It represents a partial and incomplete picture.”
The WHO report concludes that the coronavirus likely spread from bats to humans via an unknown intermediate animal host. It recommends no further investigation of suspicions -- vehemently denied by China’s government -- that the virus escaped a biocontainment lab in the city of Wuhan, where cases of Covid-19 were first identified.
Psaki said “international and independent experts” should now be offered “unfettered access to data” and given the ability to ask questions of individuals in China at the time of the outbreak. She said the initial report lacked “imperative” guidelines informed by the coronavirus outbreak on how to prevent similar pandemics in the future.
The report resulted from a scientific mission jointly organized by the WHO and China. The WHO’s own director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, criticized the report on Tuesday as well, saying the lab-leak theory is unlikely but deserves further investigation.
Tedros came under fire early in the pandemic from the Trump administration, which called him too sympathetic to Beijing, and his remarks Tuesday were the first time he had openly speculated about the possibility the virus escaped from a lab.
The theory is popular among political conservatives in the U.S., and was given more weight last week when former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield called a lab escape the likeliest source of the pandemic in a CNN interview.
Biden administration officials have neither endorsed or dismissed the idea of a lab leak. Asked about the lab-escape theory and whether China had sufficiently cooperated with investigators, Psaki said Tuesday that “they have not been transparent” and the new report “doesn’t lead us any closer to an understanding or greater knowledge than what we had six to nine months ago about the origin.”
Biden’s top Covid-19 medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, has said Redfield’s view isn’t held by the majority of public-health experts.
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