Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, fought back hard against the assumption that the virus at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic — which has killed roughly 590,000 Americans as of this writing — the virus at the heart of the pandemic — was most likely a naturally occurring virus. That it wasn’t produced in a lab, as some conspiracy theorists had suspected, nor was it the consequence of some type of accident originating within China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (the so-called “lab leak” idea).
“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats, what’s out there now is very, very strongly leaning toward this (virus) could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated — the way the mutations have naturally evolved,” Dr. Fauci told NatGeo. “A number of very qualified evolutionary biologists have said that everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that it evolved in nature and then jumped species.”
Dr. Fauci, on the other hand, is now the Biden White House’s chief medical advisor exactly 12 months later, and he appears to be willing to change his mind about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. In recent days, I provided a coronavirus update at a Poynter event called “United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking.” When asked about all of the possible explanations for the origin of the COVID-19 virus, he responded with the following answer.
“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?” PolitiFact’s Katie Sanders asked him.
Needless to say, his reaction has outraged many netizens and social media users, especially since anyone who has just asked whether the virus at the heart of the epidemic could have been generated by an accident has been treated with the same level of scorn as someone who believes the planet is flat for the past year.
Dr. Fauci responded, “No, actually,” about 12 minutes into the event. “I am not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out to the best of our ability exactly what happened.”
Dr. Fauci remarked that there have undoubtedly been authoritative scientists who have investigated and indicated that COVID-19 likely originated from an animal reservoir of some type, “but it may have been something else,” adding, “And we need to find that out.”
As if that wasn’t enough to give some interesting texture to what the popular wisdom thought it knew about the coronavirus up to that point, The Wall Street Journal added another wrinkle on Sunday — that at least three researchers from the virology institute in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic began, apparently became unwell enough to require medical care in November 2019, implying that our knowledge of the epidemic’s timeframe, as well as the facility’s centrality to it, may need to be revisited.
As you can expect, this revelation has sent shockwaves around the internet. “The newspaper said the report — which provides fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits — may add weight to calls for a broader probe of whether the COVID-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory.”
The timing of the WSJ report is also crucial, as it comes as the World Health Organization’s decision-making body prepares to announce the next stage in a larger probe into the coronavirus pandemic’s origins.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry, predictably, slammed these US developments on Sunday: When asked for comment by the WSJ, the ministry said, “The US continues to hype the lab leak theory… Is it actually concerned about tracing the source or trying to divert attention?”
Former New York Times science writer Donald McNeil Jr., who was one of the best journalists in the US covering the pandemic until his departure on an unrelated problem, released a Medium piece titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab Leak Theory” about a week ago.
“I reported an article for The New York Times on which I put the tentative headline: ‘New Coronavirus Is ‘Clearly Not a Lab Leak,’ Scientists Say.’ It never ran. For two reasons.” he explains, back in the early Spring of 2020. ” The most important of those reasons is that there was a fissure inside the Times itself.
McNeil notes that the national security reporters were hearing from Trump administration sources (although anonymously and without clear evidence), that the coronavirus was the result of a lab leak that was being covered up by Chinese officials.
McNeil’s entire piece is worth reading. “The Occam’s Razor argument — what’s the likeliest explanation, animal or lab? — keeps shifting in the direction of the latter,” he says at one point.
“The whole thing may just be a cold case, and stay that way forever. But there are more embers left to sift. The whole world, China included, needs a hard answer, whoever is to blame — so we can prevent this from happening again.”