US Health Secretary Xavier Becerra has urged the WHO to ensure that the next phase of investigation into COVID-19's origins are more "transparent" and "science-based", amidst media reports here suggesting growing evidence that the virus could have emerged from a laboratory in China.
The fact sheet says: "The US government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illnesses".
Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said much of the evidence points to the virus evolving in a bat and "accidentally spilling" over into humans. "So I do think we're in a different period of this, John, but it's important to remember it's been framed in a way that's not true ... by Trump supporters about what happened when this was originally raised".
"But we don't know 100 percent the answer to that".
Over the weekend, China's foreign ministry noted that the WHO-led team concluded a lab leak was extremely unlikely after a visit to Wuhan in February, and blamed the United States for continuing to "hype the lab leak theory". China has always denied the Labo Leak hypothesis.
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In his address, Becerra did not mention China directly, but his remarks came days after a Wall Street Journal report in which U.S. intelligence officials are quoted saying three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the central Chinese city of Wuhan sought hospital care in November 2019, several weeks before China acknowledged the first case of the new highly infectious disease in the community.
The World Health Assembly, which has set the WHO policy, is now hosting its annual meeting in Geneva, and members are expected to discuss the next phase of the organization's investigation.
Former US president Donald Trump, whose government repeatedly peddled the theory, spoke out over the latest claims.
Anthony Fauci, infectious disease expert and head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in early May that he is "not convinced" that the CCP virus pandemic came about naturally and that the possibility "certainly exists" that it may have been a result of a laboratory accident. The White House said Monday that it had "no means" to verify the report. "We don't feel like we have that now".
"We want to let the World Health Organization investigation run thoroughly and be carried out properly and then make a judgement from that".
Administration officials still harbor strong doubts about the lab leak theory. Does it really care about the origin-tracing of the virus or just want to divert attention?