In a newly published interview with The New York Times, Fauci entertained the notion that COVID did emerge from a lab in Wuhan, China, while making the case that such a scenario would affirm his preferred theory of a “natural occurrence,” perhaps at a nearby wet market.
“If it’s not an engineered virus, what actually leaked from the lab?” Fauci said. “If it wasn’t an engineered virus, somebody went out into the field, got infected, came back to the lab and then spread it out to other people. That ain’t a lab leak, strictly speaking. That’s a natural occurrence.”
Fauci, a longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has drawn scrutiny over federal funding for bat coronavirus research with ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, premised his hypothetical on an assertion about intelligence assessing the origins of the pandemic. “All of the intelligence groups agree that this was not an engineered virus,” he said.
The comments elicited swift pushback on social media.
Ebright was reacting to Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, who pointed out Fauci’s comments don’t square with a declassified report that was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in 2021.
“Fauci wrongly says all intel agencies ‘agree that this was not an engineered virus.’ [ODNI] assessment says ‘most’ assess [with] low confidence ‘probably’ not engineered,” Rogin tweeted. “Fauci also wrongly says, even if it escaped the lab, ‘That ain’t a lab leak.’ What?!”
In recent months, news broke that fresh intelligence led the Energy Department to assess with “low confidence” that the health crisis likely began with a lab leak. Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe testified to Congress last week that “a lab leak is the only explanation credibly supported by our intelligence, by science, and by common sense.”
Still, the White House declared in February there was no “consensus” within the U.S. government about how the COVID pandemic began.
China rejects the lab leak theory, but reports about Beijing’s refusal to fully cooperate with COVID inquiries underscore continued disagreement within the scientific community about how the virus could have jumped from animals to humans.
Whatever the origin of the COVID pandemic may be, Fauci said “we should be strengthening whatever it takes to prevent both — to prevent a new natural occurrence or a new lab leak.”
“If it’s a natural occurrence, for goodness’ sake, natural occurrences occur all the time. We should have been doing something about that,” Fauci said. “If it’s a lab leak, then we really should have been much, much more attentive to protocols and training and restrictions.”