Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said recently he believes the novel coronavirus originated inside a lab in Wuhan, China and “escaped,” and was potentially spreading as early as September 2019.
“If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan,” the virologist told CNN in a clip that aired Friday. “That’s my own feelings. And only opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now.”
Though a World Health Organization team performing an investigation into the origins of the virus in Wuhan had called a lab-related incident “extremely unlikely,” Redfield said he is “of the point of view that I still think the most likely aetiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped.”
“The other people don’t believe that,” said Redfield, who led the CDC under former President Donald Trump. “That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out. It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker.”
The WHO team, which draws on experts from 10 countries, is considering several theories for how the disease first ended up in humans and is expected to release a report of its findings soon. The team’s work is meant to be an initial step in investigating the origins of the virus, which is believed to have originated in bats before being passed to humans via another species of wild animal, such as a pangolin or bamboo rat.
Last month WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said the team’s initial findings “suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one way that will require more studies and more specific targeted research.”
The possibility of transmission through the trade of frozen products was also likely, he added.
“However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population,” Embarek said. “Therefore it is not a hypothesis that we advise to suggest future studies … into the understanding of the origin of the virus.”
Health experts have said that the novel coronavirus likely originated in Wuhan in November 2019. Scientists in recent months have questioned whether the virus originated at a live animal market in Wuhan or was the result of a lab accident at one of the city’s two laboratories — the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control — that had been studying coronaviruses that originated in bats.