The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and experts told Congress on Wednesday that the virus that triggered the COVID-19 pandemic had unusual features that support the theory of a Chinese lab leak — a position that government scientists downplayed early in the crisis in favor of a natural-origin theory. origin.
Dr. Robert Redfield, who headed the CDC under President Donald Trump, pointed to the virus’s rapid human-to-human transmission and rapid evolution, as well as “extraordinary actions” to contain the virus in and around Wuhan in the fall of 2019.
His review of the available data “suggests that COVID-19 was more likely the result of an accidental leak from a laboratory than the result of natural spread. This conclusion is based primarily on the biology of the virus itself,” Dr. Redfield told the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic.
Nicholas Wade, a former science editor at The New York Times, said that virus researchers from Wuhan – the Chinese city where the pandemic began – and their American intermediary wanted to create a furin cleavage site in coronaviruses to see if they could facilitate infection. mice, only to be refused by the Ministry of Defense.
Mr Wade said the work could have gone ahead either way.
“The Ministry of Defense rejected the proposal as too risky, but the researchers may have found other ways to fund it. And they may have done a lot of experimentation before applying for a grant, as is usually the case,” he testified. “A year later, Art [coronavirus] appears on the scene and guess what – it possesses a furin cleavage site, the only known member of its large virus family to do so.”
Other scientists have published papers saying there is no evidence that the cleavage site in the coronavirus was created by lab workers.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, insisted to Congress that the virus that caused the pandemic was not related to viruses that his grantee, EcoHealth, was working on in Wuhan.
The new House GOP majority says its select subcommittee will try to find out whether the virus was the result of a natural spread or a lab leak. It says that a serious investigation into the case is long overdue.
Subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup, Republican of Ohio, said the issue is fundamental to helping the U.S. prevent future pandemics and protect national security.
The virus was initially blamed on a wet market in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in 2019, before spreading around the world in early 2020 and killing nearly 7 million people, including more than 1.1 million in the U.S.
The lab leak theory, which was initially discredited as disinformation by the political left, gained credence late in the Trump administration and was bolstered by evidence that some Wuhan lab workers were hospitalized with flu-like illness before the virus exploded across the city.
Mr. Wenstrup said the unprecedented nature of the virus and its characteristics support the lab’s theory.
“COVID-19 has unique characteristics that have made it highly contagious to humans,” Mr Wenstrup said. “They have never been seen before in other viruses of this type.”
Questions about the origin of the coronavirus have divided the US government itself.
The Department of Energy recently concluded that the coronavirus pandemic most likely originated from a leak from a laboratory in China. He based his conclusion on new operational data, an additional review of the academic literature, and consultation with non-government experts.
However, this was done with “low confidence”, meaning that a level of uncertainty about the provenance remains.
Several agencies have spent years trying to identify the source of the virus.
The FBI concluded with moderate confidence that a leak from a lab was responsible for the spread of the virus, while intelligence agencies determined with low confidence that the virus came from natural channels, according to a review President Biden ordered in 2021.
Dr. Fauci, who has been the main face of the response to COVID-19, was not present at the hearing, but his name came up more than once.
Documents obtained by the subcommittee show that in February 2020, Dr. Fauci “prompted” an article rejecting the theory that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The paper comes days after Dr. Fauci and other health officials were warned that the virus may have been genetically manipulated before leaving the lab.
Republican Party investigators said the article, titled “The Proximate Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” allegedly “distorts available evidence” to show that China was not responsible. Throughout 2020, Dr. Fauci repeatedly cited the document to journalists and the public to cast doubt on the lab leak theory.
Dr. Redfield told the subcommittee that government scientists bought into the natural spillover theory early on and wanted to exclude people like him who thought the lab leak had credibility.
Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, responded to Mr. Trump’s praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to combat the virus in early 2020 and his insistence that the virus would go away on its own.
“Donald Trump has been the biggest apologist in the United States of America for President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr Raskin said. “He could have ordered the intelligence community to investigate the origins of COVID-19 as early as March 2020, three years ago. He did not; he wasted valuable time minimizing the risk of contracting the virus and praising President Xi.”
Despite the partisan bickering over the issue, the Chinese government has been a prime target for witnesses and lawmakers.
Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Beijing’s crackdown was a major obstacle to figuring out the origin of the virus, but said the U.S. should create a bipartisan commission to study the pandemic.
“I turned out to be a Democrat, which has nothing to do with our work together,” Mr. Metzl said. “There is no smoking gun to support the laboratory-origin hypothesis, but a growing body of circumstantial evidence suggests that the gun is at least warm to the touch.”
Mr Wade said the Chinese government wanted to find evidence of a natural origin but could find none.
“The natural origin camp learned about its history first, which always helps a lot,” he said.
He also highlighted the Chinese government’s efforts to thwart the World Health Organization and other investigators who wanted to learn about the activities of the Wuhan laboratory.
“Innocent behavior would be to open the Wuhan Institute and all of its virus samples, working papers and databases to anyone who cares to look. The Chinese authorities have done the opposite,” Mr. Wade said.
The commission also targeted research on enhancing functionality that could make viruses more dangerous as part of efforts to understand them and prevent pandemics.
Dr. Redfield said the risk outweighed the benefit. He called for a moratorium on such research, saying it had never stopped the pandemic.
“On the contrary, I think it probably caused the biggest pandemic our world has ever seen,” Dr. Redfield said.
GOP committee leaders have said they will hold a series of hearings on the origins of COVID-19 and demand information from the National Institutes of Health and its grantee EcoHealth.
“We’re not done yet,” Mr. Wenstrup said. “We’re just getting started.”
• Haris Alich contributed to this story.
For more information, visit The Washington Times’ COVID-19 resource page.