At odds with the statements of President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview he believes the coronavirus did not originate in a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“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, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told National Geographic magazine.
“Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species,” he said.
Fauci said he also does not believe “an alternate theory — that someone found the coronavirus in the wild, brought it to a lab, and then it accidentally escaped.”
In contrast, Trump said April 30 he’s seen convincing evidence the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And on Sunday, Pompeo told ABC News there’s “enormous evidence” the pandemic blamed for the deaths of more than 250,000 people worldwide came from the lab.
“Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories,” said Pompeo.
The secretary of state said he did not think the virus was man-made or genetically modified.
The U.S. intelligence community confirms that assessment in its investigation of the origin of the virus. But it has not ruled out the possibility the pandemic was the result of an accident at the Wuhan lab.
The Global Times, which is owned by the communist Chinese government, said in an editorial Monday that Pompeo had “stunned the world with groundless accusations.”
The World Health Organization said Friday it was “assured” that the novel coronavirus is “natural in origin.”
Senator: All evidence points to labs
On Tuesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., affirmed Trump and Pompeo in an interview Tuesday with Fox News host Sandra Smith, insisting there is no evidence the virus originated in a seafood market in Wuhan.
“Now, all the evidence pointing to those labs — the fact that they use bats, that they research coronaviruses, that they have a history of bad safety practices, that the original person infected with the virus had no contact with the [seafood] market — all of that is circumstantial evidence to be sure,” he said.
“But, in intelligence questions, we rarely get direct or conclusive evidence,” he pointed out. “So, I agree that all of the evidence — albeit circumstantial — points directly at those labs.”
Cotton said that if the Chinese Communist Party “has evidence to the contrary, they need to bring it forward to the world.”
The senator said the question of whether the virus was genetically modified or engineered is “a highly technical scientific question.”
He said the weight of scientific opinion at the moment is that it is a naturally occurring virus.
“But, a naturally occurring virus can, of course, be present in a laboratory where it’s being studied,” Cotton pointed out. “That is a different question from saying that laboratory may have had bad safety practices and there could have been an accidental breach which was the original source of what has become this terrible pandemic.”
Asked to react to Fauci’s remarks to National Geographic, Cotton said Fauci “was talking primarily about whether a virus could have been manipulated genetically or modified in some way in a laboratory.”
“Again, the weight of scientific opinion studying this virus around the world suggests that that is not the case, but that evolution certainly could have happened in nature before any animal was taken into the laboratory or in the laboratory itself,” Cotton said.
“But, even setting aside those questions, Sandra, I think we also have to point to how the Communist Party reacted,” he told Smith.
“Rather than tell the world upfront in December that there was a new virus, it was in Wuhan, and it was highly contagious — which they obviously knew at the time — they deliberately misled the world. They allowed international air travel to continue in December and January. Thereby turning what could have been a local public health emergency into a global pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in a century.”