WSJ report fuels debate over COVID-19 origin

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WHITE HOUSE SPOKESWOMAN JEN PSAKI: "We don't have enough data and information to jump to a conclusion at this point in time."

The White House on Monday said it could not confirm a Wall Street Journal report on the origins of COVID-19 that said three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November of 2019 - a month before China reported the first cases of the coronavirus.

The report has fueled debate over whether the virus was transmitted from animals to humans and has lent support to claims it escaped from a lab.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said more information was needed and called on the World Health Organization to step up its investigation.

PSAKI: "We have repeatedly called for the WHO to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic's origins that is free from interference of politicization... Now we're hopeful that WHO can move into a more transparent, independent Phase 2 investigation."

The Wall Street Journal report cited a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that went beyond a State Department fact sheet released near the end of the Trump administration that said researchers at the lab had symptoms that were consistent with "both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness."

The new intelligence report adds new details, including the number of researchers, the timing of their illnesses and their hospital visits.

On Monday, Reuters asked Psaki about the intelligence report the Wall Street Journal cited.

REUTERS REPORTER JEFF MASON: "Was it accurate? And do you have any concerns that it may have been politicalized?"

PSAKI: "I would say, in terms of the report, which was specifically about individuals being hospitalized, we have no means of confirming that or denying that. I mean, it's not a report from the United States."

MASON: "I think the Journal cited a U.S. intelligence report. So that would've been a U.S. report."

PSAKI: "Well, I don't have anything more on a U.S. intelligence report from here."

Earlier on Monday, China's foreign ministry rejected the Wall Street Journal report, saying it was "completely untrue."

CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN ZHAO LIJIAN: "The United States continues to hype up the lab leak theory. Does it care about traceability? Or is it just trying to distract attention?"

Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday that - despite the claims from China - scientists still haven’t discovered definitive proof that the virus came from an animal, and that there was an increasing amount of circumstantial evidence supporting the theory that the virus could have come from a lab.

The first cases of what would eventually be known as COVID-19 were reported at the end of December 2019 in Wuhan, China, where the advanced laboratory specializing in coronavirus research is located.