Dr. Anthony Fauci reportedly walked back his previous comment that he was “not convinced” COVID-19 developed naturally; today, he told a reporter that he believes it is “highly likely” the virus, in fact, did originate naturally.
Fauci reportedly told CBS News’ Weija Jiang that it is “highly likely” that the novel coronavirus first occurred naturally before spreading from animal to human, though he added that he is open to a thorough investigation. However, he said that does not mean he believes the virus first emerged in a lab.
Dr. Fauci said that does not mean he believes the virus first emerged in a lab, as some have suggested.
He does not know anything about the three researchers at the Wuhan lab who sought hospital care in November 2019 as reported by the WSJ.
— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) May 24, 2021
Fauci’s latest comments come after he told Politifact’s Katie Sanders on May 11 that he was “not convinced” when she asked him whether he was “still confident that [COVID-19] developed naturally.”
“I am not convinced about that,” he added. “I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened.”
He continued: “Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out. So, you know, that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.”
Fauci’s comments on May 11 came as a surprise to many, because, over the past year, he has repeatedly dismissed the theory that the novel coronavirus could have leaked from a lab.
“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” he told National Geographic in May 2020.
“Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species,” he added, telling the magazine that based on the scientific evidence, he did not entertain the lab-leak theory.
Yet while the World Health Organization (WHO) initially declared the lab-leak theory “extremely unlikely,” the WHO chief, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said that the research team’s probe into whether the virus may have escaped following a laboratory incident was not “extensive enough” and requires more investigation.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week that the Biden administration has expressed both publicly and privately that the Chinese government was “not transparent from the beginning.”
On Sunday, a Wall Street Journal report revealed that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were hospitalized in November 2019, around the time that COVID-19 may have begun spreading in Wuhan, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment. One intelligence official warned that the report needed additional verification, while another said it was significant.
The report calls into question the timeline China has given for the emergence of the virus, since Beijing claimed that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was recorded on December 8, 2019, in Wuhan.
China has repeatedly denied that the illness escaped from the lab. However, scientists from around the world have expressed concern that the lab-leak theory has not been properly investigated, given the limitations placed on investigators by Beijing; the WIV has refused to share data logs and other records for an investigation into a potential lab leak.