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Biden National Security Adviser Says Trump Admin Didn't Take Pandemic Surveillance Seriously

Newsweek logo Newsweek 2/21/2021 Emily Czachor
Jake Sullivan wearing a suit and tie: White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan pointed to lapses in the former presidential administration's pandemic preparedness strategies during an appearance on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday. In the photograph above, Sullivan talks to reporters during a press conference at the White House on February 04, 2021 in Washington, D.C. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan pointed to lapses in the former presidential administration's pandemic preparedness strategies during an appearance on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday. In the photograph above, Sullivan talks to reporters during a press conference at the White House on February 04, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

As President Joe Biden works to implement a more robust set of strategies to address the coronavirus pandemic than those effected during his predecessor's term, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan pointed to shortcomings under the previous administration that might have contributed to the outbreak's current gravity.

"What I believe is that the Trump administration did not take pandemic surveillance as seriously as they should have," said the White House official on Sunday morning's Face the Nation, where he emphasized the importance of foresight in comments to CBS News' Margaret Brennan.

"I think it is absolutely the case, and we've seen this in COVID-19, that pandemics represent one of the most severe threats to American lives and livelihoods," Sullivan told the program moderator. "And, therefore, our intelligence community should, across the board, be elevating its tools, its resources, its practices to focus on detecting, preventing and responding to pandemics."

A comprehensive effort to take these strides "is something the Biden administration will be pursuing," he continued. When asked if the intelligence community failed in that regard under Trump, Sullivan cited the former administration's decision to disband the Global Health Security and Biodefense team—created in 2015 during Barack Obama's presidency for the express purpose of pandemic preparedness.

"That is the kind of thing, the kind of step, that we cannot see going forward," Sullivan said. "So, whether we're talking about the types of policy tools required, the types of intelligence tools required, or the type of engagement in international business institutions required...it is going to be important for every future administration to elevate global health, bio preparedness and pandemic preparedness to the highest order of national security priority."

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The national security officer also shared brief remarks about the origins of COVID-19. It is understood that the earliest publicized cases of the respiratory disease were identified in Wuhan, China, during the latter part of 2019, and speculation linked the emergence to a laboratory inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology for some time.

Theories about how the virus surfaced have been subject to conjecture throughout the course of the pandemic. In January, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the federal department "had reason to believe" that researchers at the virology institute were ill with COVID-19 months before documented cases suggest. The State Department released additional information pertaining to the allegations around the same time, while personnel at the World Health Organization launched an investigation.

Sullivan told Brennan on Sunday that the Biden administration could neither confirm nor deny reports that relate to COVID-19's origins until the formal investigation is complete.

"This is why the WHO investigation has to be left to the scientist and experts to lay out, without any interference by any government, because that's the only way we're going to know what the origins of this are. I'm not in a position to say how COVID-19 came into this world. All I'm in a position to do is to call upon the WHO to do its job to the fullest extent possible."

Newsweek reached out to the White House and Trump's office for comment but did not receive replies in time for publication.

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