Again and again, Dr. Anthony Fauci has emphatically said there is no scientific evidence the COVID-19 virus was made in a Chinese 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,” Fauci said in an interview almost exactly a year ago. “Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.”
“If you accept the premise, which is very strongly supported by scientific evidence, that it was not deliberately mutated and deliberately changed, and you say, if it was in the wild and evolving, the likelihood it jumped species naturally, someone will say, ‘Well, maybe somebody took it from the wild, put it in the lab, and then it escaped from the lab.’ But that means it was in the wild, to begin with!” said Fauci, an immunologist, and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who served on former President Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force and is now President Biden’s chief medical adviser on COVID-19.
But with Republicans on Capitol Hill demanding more information about where the virus originated, Fauci is changing his tune.
In an interview earlier this month, published on Saturday, PolitiFact’s Katie Sanders asked Fauci: “There’s a lot of cloudiness around the origins of COVID-19 still, so I wanted to ask, are you still confident that it developed naturally?”
“No actually,” Fauci said, “I am not convinced about that, 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.”
“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 added.
Other top U.S. health officials have also begun to muse about the origins of the virus. The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said it is “possible” the virus was “lab-based.”
At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked CDC Director Rachel Walensky how she thinks the pandemic began. “I don’t believe I’ve seen enough data, individual data for me to be able to comment on that,” Walensky said.
Kennedy then asked about the “possibilities” on where the virus originated. “Certainly the possibilities of, that most coronaviruses that we know of are of origin from, that have infected the population — SARS CoV-1, MERS — generally come from an animal origin.”
“Are there any other possibilities?” Kennedy asked.
“Certainly a lab-based origin is one possibility,” Walensky said.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are claiming that “significant circumstantial evidence” exists showing COVID-19 first emerged from a leak at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The lawmakers, headed by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who is the top Republican on the committee, said in a report obtained by Fox News that China has not cooperated with efforts to find out where the virus originated.
“International efforts to discover the true source of the virus, however, have been stymied by a lack of cooperation from the People’s Republic of China,” they wrote in the report. “Nevertheless, significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
The report also said the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military had “involvement” in the lab. The report rejected the long-reported claim that the virus came from bats. “By contrast, little circumstantial evidence has emerged to support the PRC’s claim that COVID-19 was a natural occurrence, having jumped from some other species to human,” the lawmakers wrote.
On Sunday, Republicans on the committee demanded President Joe Biden and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines provide more information on the origins of COVID-19. In letters to the two officials, the lawmakers say the pair has not been “forthcoming” about “what processes it undertook to make seemingly authoritative statements early in the pandemic about the origins of the virus — conclusions that are now in question.”
“This casts doubt on the validity of early judgments as well as the analytic integrity of COVID-19-related intelligence reporting,” the lawmakers say in the letter to Haines.