Wednesday morning news – March 31, 2021

KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: WHO team announces early findings of virus origins study » A team of investigators with the World Health Organization has presented a long-awaited first look at its study into the origin of the coronavirus.

But the team’s only conclusion is that more study is needed.

WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus says the U.N. health body is not ready to endorse any single hypothesis.

GHEBREYESUS: For now, all hypotheses will be on the table and will need further study. Thank you.

Team leader Peter Ben Embarek suggested one hypothesis is all but off the table.

As expected, Embarak threw water on a possibility raised by U.S. intelligence that the virus may have escaped from a Chinese lab.

EMBAREK: The findings suggest that the laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely. 

And he said he is not recommending that the team further investigate that possibility.

But many on Capitol Hill remain skeptical of the team’s early report. GOP Senator Tom Cotton:

COTTON: The report is a joke. I mean, these so-called investigators did not have access to scientists. They did not have access to evidence. Chinese Communists told them ‘nothing to see here’ so they walked away and said ‘nope, there’s nothing to see here.’

The team did in fact have access to Chinese scientists, but not without Communist Party officials looking over their shoulder.

Embarek conceded, “We did not have full access to all the raw data we wanted.” He also pointed to what he called “privacy” issues in China that prevented sharing of some data.

World leaders call for pandemic treaty » Also on Tuesday, dozens of world leaders called for a global pandemic treaty to prepare and guard against future outbreaks.

More than 20 heads of government joined the call for more global cooperation, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italian Premier Mario Draghi, and European Council President Charles Michel.

MICHEL: The next pandemic is not a question of if but when so we must be ready and we have no time to waste. 

But the White House isn’t sold. Press Secretary Jen Psaki:

PSAKI: We do have some concerns, primarily about the timing in launching into negotiations for launching into a new treaty right now. And we believe that could divert attention away from substantive issues regarding the response.

Tedros Ghebreyesus said the “world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one.”

But the leaders provided few details on how such an agreement would actually work.

As hospitalizations rise, CDC, White House again urge Americans to get vaccinated » And with COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths again on the rise in the United States, the CDC is again urging Americans to get vaccinated and to do it as quickly as possible.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky:

WALENSKY: I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again. 

And President Biden this week also again urged Americans to get vaccinated. And he said very soon, access to vaccines will no longer be a problem as we’re rapidly approaching a benchmark he called “90-90.”

BIDEN: By April 19th, three weeks from today, 90 percent of adults, people 18 and over, will be eligible to get vaccinated — 90 percent of Americans will be living within five miles of a place they can get a shot. 

And multiple manufacturers are now working on coronavirus vaccines that can be delivered in the form of a nasal spray. AstraZeneca will begin early stage trials soon, but it will be several months before the company seeks approvals for public use.

Biden signs Paycheck Protection Program extension into law » President Biden on Tuesday also signed an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

The application window was set to close today. But with the extension, companies now have until May 31st to apply for assistance.

BIDEN: It is a bipartisan accomplishment. Nearly 90,000 businesses are still in line and there’s money left. Without me signing this bill today, there are hundreds of thousands of people who could lose their jobs. 

The White House says that under the program, the government has approved more than $200 billion dollars in forgivable loans so far.

The nearly $2 trillion dollar relief and spending bill the president signed into law this month included another $7 billion dollars for the program.

Noem issues executive order to after partial veto of bill protecting women’s sports » South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem this week killed a bill that would have banned male athletes who identify as female from competing in women’s and girls’ sports.

She then followed her partial veto of the bill with weaker executive orders. WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown reports.

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: The Republican governor ordered that all girls joining girls sports leagues in public schools must present a birth certificate or affidavit showing they were born female.

A second order applied to public universities in the state, but amounted to a recommendation they enact bans.

The governor also promised to call lawmakers back into session in the coming months to take up the matter.

In a statement, Noem said “only girls should play girls’ sports.” She added that she was issuing the orders because the Legislature had rejected her partial veto of the bill.

Lawmakers in more than 20 states have introduced similar bans this year, with Republican governors in three states—Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi—signing them into law. A federal court blocked a similar law in Idaho last year.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown.

(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) In this Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 file photo, Peter Ben Embarek of a World Health Organization team speaks to journalists, at the end of their WHO mission to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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