Regarding the origins of the virus, Redfield went on to say: “I am of the view that I still believe that the most likely ideology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory. I escaped. Other people don’t believe that. It’s okay. Science will eventually figure it out. It is not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker. “
Redfield’s remarks come after a WHO team concluded last month that the virus was “extremely unlikely” that it had leaked from a Chinese laboratory, specifically, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and that most likely first transmitted to humans from an animal. The WHO team is expected to release a final report on their findings in the near future, though questions remain as to whether their investigation was free and open enough.
Most scientists also believe that the virus evolved naturally and, at some unknown time, jumped from an animal to a human, just as two related viruses, SARS and MERS, have over the past two decades. But many experts say they cannot completely rule out the possibility that the virus has escaped from a laboratory, although they consider such a scenario unlikely.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, addressed Redfield’s interview later Friday at a news conference of members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team. He said his former colleague “was only expressing an opinion” on the possible origins of the virus.
“I think what he was probably saying is that there are certainly possibilities … of how a virus adapts to efficient spread between humans,” Fauci said. “One of them is in the lab. And one of them, which is the most likely, that most public health officials agree with, is that it was probably below the radar screen, spreading in the community in China for several weeks, if not a month or more, which allowed when he was clinically recognized as being fairly well adjusted. “
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, Redfield’s successor, added: “I have no indication for or against any of the hypotheses that Dr. Fauci outlined.”
Since the initial Covid-19 outbreak in the United States, numerous high-profile conservative commentators, Republican lawmakers, and former Trump administration officials have promoted the theory that the virus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, offering little evidence for back up their claims as they seek to blame the communist government of China for the spread of the disease. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) are among the leading proponents of the laboratory theory.
Redfield stressed on Friday that his assessment of the origins of the virus “did not imply any intentionality” on the part of the Chinese government. But he reiterated that he did not believe that the virus “somehow came from a bat to a human and, at that time … it became one of the most infectious viruses that we know of in humanity, for person-to-person transmission.” .
The former CDC director explained that typically, when a pathogen is transmitted from an animal to a human, “it takes a while for it to figure out how to become increasingly efficient at human-to-human transmission. I just don’t think this makes biological sense ”for the virus that causes Covid-19, he said.
But Redfield suggested that the increased viral efficiency could have been grown in a lab: “Yeah, let’s say I have coronavirus and I’m working on it. Most of us in the lab are trying to grow viruses. We try to help it grow better and better and better and better and better and better, so that we can experiment and find out. That’s the way I put it together. “
Susannah Luthi contributed to this report.