After a report in this week’s Wall Street Journal made it clear the official World Health Organization finding that it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese lab was, well, extremely unlikely to have been particularly thorough, what are we supposed to think?
According to GOP South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, “[y]ou don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes” to figure out what the most likely answer is.
Graham was appearing on Fox News Wednesday to announce he would introduce legislation sanctioning China for not “fully” cooperating with the World Health Organization and the international community’s investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus.
The report produced by the WHO on the coronavirus’ origins earlier this spring said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus escaped from laboratory and that an animal-to-human transmission chain was the most likely culprit, according to Politico.
However, China’s transparency remained a concern, particularly given the fact that the virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which happens to be the home of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, an advanced bio-research facility.
That concern that blew up with the Sunday Wall Street Journal scoop that U.S. intelligence believed three employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November of 2019 to seek hospital care.
“The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the lab, a center for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 ‘with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness,’” the Journal reported.
This would put it right around the time epidemiologists believe the virus would have begun to circulate around Wuhan.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden ordered a closer review of the origins of the disease.
“As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question,” Biden said in a statement, according to CNBC.
“Here is their current position: ‘While two elements in the IC leans toward the [human contact] scenario and one leans more toward the [lab leak scenario] – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”
Graham didn’t sound quite so measured when responding to Biden’s statement on Fox News.
“You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure this out if the first cases of COVID-19 occurred in November with lab workers, doesn’t that make it more likely than not that the source of the virus was in the lab, not a wet market?” he asked.
“So, I think it’s becoming increasingly clear we haven’t found an animal yet that is a good host for the virus. If the first cases involve lab workers in Wuhan, it’s most likely they got it in the lab.”
Graham said his proposed sanctions package would be one way Congress could help the administration.
“So, how can the Congress help President Biden? We should put together a sanctions regime against China, put in place sanctions until they fully cooperate with the international community to find out the source of the virus,” Graham said.
“I don’t think, without sanctions, without international pressure, they’re ever going to help. So you can look at this ’til you turn blue in the face. The only way China is going to respond is when the world makes them respond. So sanctions led by the United States, embraced by the world, I think would get us to where we need to go, and I intend to introduce those sanctions relatively soon.”
Deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wouldn’t comment when asked Wednesday whether the Biden administration would support a sanctions package to compel China’s cooperation with a more thorough investigation of COVID’s origins.
“We’re not going to go there just yet. We have to go through the 90-day review, and once we have the 90 day review we’ll be able to reassess,” Jean-Pierre said, according to a transcript of Wednesday’s media briefing
The reporter pressed her on the matter, noting that if there was “anything that kills 591,116 Americans” and “if another nation either was responsible or knew more than they were letting on,” would Biden act?
“Like you said, they weren’t letting the inspectors in, and that hurt the overall investigation forever. What would the president do? Would he do anything?” the unnamed reporter asked, according to the transcript.
“I mean, he’s doing something right now,” Jean-Pierre responded. “He asked his team back in March, right, to do this. To look into this, look into the origins of the COVID-19. This is incredibly important. Like his statement says, we need to find out where the COVID-19 originated from. So the president has been very clear.
“He actually spoke out about this back in 2020, so this is not the first time we’ve heard his voice, his concern about the origins of COVID-19. So, we’re just taking the next step. I’m just not going to prejudge. I’m not going to make a statement until we know what happens after this 90-day review.”
While one doesn’t expect Jean-Pierre to excitedly commit the White House to a regime of sanctions before the review is over, this is far less committal than one would have hoped.
If the Biden administration now admits the Wuhan lab leak isn’t necessarily off the table and the president believes “we need to find out where the COVID-19 originated from,” what’s going to compel Beijing to comply with a real investigation, then?
You don’t need Sherlock Holmes for that one.
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