Asked about the possibility that the lethal pathogen was “man-made” in a laboratory at Friday’s White House briefing, Dr Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the task force, brushed the speculative theory aside, stating the coronavirus in all likelihood passed naturally from animals to humans.
“The mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now are totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.”
Fauci’s brief exchange with reporters came as President Donald Trump is increasingly pressed for a direct answer whether the virus “emerged” from a lab in China’s Wuhan. Previously stating that the White House is looking into the broader origins of the coronavirus, including the ‘lab’ theory, Trump weighed in further on Friday, saying: “We’re looking at it. A lot of people are looking at it. It seems to make sense.”
“They talk about a certain kind of bat, but that bat wasn’t in that area. … that bat wasn’t sold in that wet zone,” the president said, casting doubt on whether the virus was passed to humans at Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
“So a lot of strange things are happening, but there’s a lot of investigation going on and we’re going to find out.”
A number of recent reports have breathed life into the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus escaped from the high-security Wuhan Institute of Virology, with Fox and the Washington Post running stories this week lending credibility to the idea through mostly anonymous government sources.
Though a number of experts have tentatively placed Covid-19’s ground zero in Wuhan, the scientific verdict is still out on the question, with one recent study led by the University of Cambridge concluding the virus more likely emerged elsewhere.
“If I am pressed for an answer, I would say the original spread started more likely in southern China than in Wuhan,” said Cambridge geneticist Peter Forster, adding that concrete proof “can only come from analyzing more bats.”
As proponents of the competing theories duke it out in scientific journals and internet comment sections, the White House has stepped up a rhetorical assault on Beijing in recent weeks, with Trump repeatedly accusing the country of concealing information in the early stages of its outbreak. The president also turned his wrath to the World Health Organization (WHO), freezing the agency’s funding while claiming it abetted the Chinese “cover-up,” though he has yet to offer evidence for the allegation.
Header: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks alongside US President Donald Trump at a White House briefing in Washington, DC. © Reuters / Leah Millis