“No evidence” to support former CDC director’s theory that coronavirus escaped from lab, Fauci says.
Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN he believes the coronavirus originally escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. But a team of experts from the World Health Organization, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and a number of virology experts have said the evidence to support such a claim just isn’t there.
“I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human. And at that moment in time, the virus came to the human, became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human to human transmission,” Redfield told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta during an interview taped in January, to be aired in full on Sunday.
“Normally, when a pathogen goes from a zoonot to human, it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient.”
Redfield, a virologist who headed the CDC under President Trump, stressed several times that this is just his opinion, not a proven fact. “I’m allowed to have opinions now,” he said. According to Redfield, the extremely fast transmission of the then-novel coronavirus, in his view, indicates that it was likely grown in a lab for that exact purpose. “Most of us in a lab, when trying to grow a virus, we try to help make it grow better, and better, and better, and better, and better, and better so we can do experiments and figure out about it. That’s the way I put it together,” he said of his theory.
Redfield, however, also said he believes the virus began spreading months earlier than once thought — perhaps since September or October of 2019, a timeframe roughly supported by recent research. That extra time the virus may have spent circulating undetected could help explain how it became “efficient” at transmission — without having been “leaked” from a lab.
Dr. Anthony Fauci disagrees.
He addressed Redfield’s comments at Friday’s COVID-19 response briefing and suggested that most public health officials also disagree. He noted that if the virus had escaped from a lab, that would mean that “it essentially entered the outside human population already well-adapted to humans.”
“However, the alternative explanation which most public health individuals go by, is that this virus was actually circulating in China, likely in Wuhan, for a month or more before they were clinically recognized at the end of December of 2019,” Fauci said. Fauci thus used the same facts Redfield cites to somehow draw the opposite, and illogical, conclusion.
Fauci then proceeds to get lost in the weeds
“If that were the case, the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time, up to and at the time it was recognized. So, Dr. Redfield was mentioning that he was giving an opinion as to a possibility, but again there are other alternatives — others that most people hold by.”
Understanding when the coronavirus first emerged is an important piece of the epidemiological puzzle, one that scientists around the world, including a team from the WHO, have been working to nail down. One study, recently published in the journal Science, found “the period between mid-October and mid-November 2019” to be “the plausible interval when the first case of SARS-CoV-2 emerged in Hubei province.”
“It is highly probable that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating in Hubei province at low levels in early-November 2019 and possibly as early as October 2019, but not earlier,” reads the study. But for weeks or months, its prevalence was low enough to escape notice. “By the time COVID-19 was first identified, the virus had firmly established itself in Wuhan.”
Kristian G. Andersen, director of the infectious disease genomics, translational research institute at Scripps Research, sides with Fauci. She told CBS News that “none of (Redfield’s) comments” on the lab theory are “backed by available evidence.”
“It is clear that not only was he the most disastrous CDC director in U.S. history where he utterly failed in his sworn mission to keep the country safe, but via his comments, he also shows a complete lack of basic evolutionary virology,” Andersen said.
Andersen was the lead author of a study published in Nature Medicine last year which found that the virus was a product of natural evolution. Furthermore, through analysis of public genome sequence data, the scientists “found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered,” according to a press release from Scripps.