U.S. calls for ‘transparent’ new probe into COVID-19 origins

Intelligence agencies are examining reports

The United States called on Tuesday for international experts to be allowed to evaluate the source of the SARS-Cov-2 and the “early days of the outbreak” in a second phase of an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

U.S. intelligence agencies are examining reports that researchers at Wuhan Institute of Virology were seriously ill in 2019 a month before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, according to U.S. government sources who cautioned on Monday that there is still no proof the disease originated at the lab.

“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,” U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a video message to the annual ministerial meeting of the World Health Organization.

Mr. Becerra did not mention China directly, where the first known human cases of COVID-19 emerged in the central city of Wuhan in December 2019.

The origin of the virus is hotly contested. In a report issued in March, written jointly with Chinese scientists, a WHO-led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan in January and February said the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway”.

A WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, asking about a follow-up mission, told Reuters on Monday that the agency was reviewing the recommendations from the report at the technical level.

China on Monday dismissed as “totally untrue” reports that three researchers in Wuhan went to hospital with an illness before the coronavirus emerged in the city.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that, according to a statement from the laboratory, it “had not been exposed to COVID-19 before December 30, 2019, and a “zero-infection” record is kept among its staff and graduate students so far”.

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