Xavier Becerra, Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, called for a follow-up investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in remarks to the World Health Organization on Tuesday.
“Phase 2 of the COVID origins study must be launched with terms of reference that are transparent, science-based, and give international experts the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak,” Becerra told the World Health Assembly, a ministerial body of the WHO, in prerecorded remarks.
Becerra’s remarks come after White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration would defer to the WHO for an investigation of the origins of the pandemic.
“That would require China finally stepping up and allowing access needed to determine the origins,” Psaki told reporters. “Of course the United States would be supportive of that second stage of the investigation, but it would be led by an international body.”
Psaki was responding to questions about a Wall Street Journal report that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill with COVID-like symptoms in the fall of 2019, lending further circumstantial evidence to the theory that the virus leaked from the lab.
The Biden administration has previously criticized the first investigation into the origins of the pandemic initiated by the WHO. In that probe, the WHO reportedly gave China veto power over which American scientists could be on the investigative team. The Wuhan Institute of Virology, considered a potential source of a lab leak, has not shared relevant logs and data.
The Biden administration “real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN in March.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time that the investigative team visited “several laboratories in Wuhan and considered the possibility that the virus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident. However, I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough.”