State Department says 'jury still out' on WHO's Wuhan coronavirus investigation

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday “the jury’s still out” on the findings of an investigation by the World Health Organization that suggests the coronavirus was transmitted from animal to human, effectively shelving other theories, including that the highly infectious virus was leaked from a lab in Wuhan into the surrounding community. 

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“I wouldn’t want to be conclusive yet before we’ve seen the report. I think it’s premature for us to go there,” Price said of WHO’s investigative findings. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken faces a unique balancing act, managing the newly reestablished relationship with the U.S. and WHO — which was severed by the Trump administration — while also taking caution not to dismiss credible scientific theories about how the coronavirus originated. 

“Rather than rush to conclusions that may be motivated by anything other than science, we want to see where that data leaves us, where that science leaves us,” Price said. “And our conclusions will be predicated on that.”

Price’s comments came shortly after WHO announced Tuesday that it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus leaked from a lab near Wuhan, China, and was thus introduced to the surrounding community. Instead, WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said an investigative team delving into how the virus originated found evidence to support another theory — that COVID-19 was transmitted from animal to human. 

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“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific, targeted research,” Embarek told reporters during a press conference.

Embarek added that WHO would not “suggest future studies” on the lab leak theory — which former President Donald Trump and officials from his administration had put forward without evidence before cutting ties with the U.N. body altogether. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is home to many different virus samples, leading to allegations that it may have been the source of the original outbreak, whether on purpose or accidentally.

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Critics of WHO say China has an outsized influence on the world health body, but President Biden has opted for the U.S. to rejoin WHO as it continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic. 

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