White House coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci on Friday pushed back against persistent theories that the SARS-Cov-2 virus may have leaked from a Chinese laboratory, including possibly one that his own federal agency has helped finance in the past.
Scientists and experts, most recently former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, have suggested that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a major coronavirus research facility in China, may have been the source of the pandemic. The lab is located just a few miles from where the Chinese government claims the first major outbreak of the virus occurred.
That lab has for years been funded by federal grants via a U.S. bio-research nonprofit. Some of that funding came from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci has headed for several decades.
Asked at a White House press briefing on Friday about Redfield’s recent suggestion of the lab-leak theory, Fauci downplayed the theory.
"The issue that would have someone think it’s possible to have escaped from a lab," he argued, "would mean that it essentially entered the outside human population already well adapted to humans, suggesting that it was adapted in the lab."
"However," he continued, "the alternative explanation, which most public health individuals go by, is that this virus was actually circulating in China, likely in Wuhan, for a month or more before they were clinically recognized at the end of December of 2019."
"If that were the case," he added, "the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time up to and at the time it was recognized."
A World Health Organization investigatory team last month determined that it was "extremely unlikely" that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab, though global health experts have criticized that team’s investigation as being inadequate and politically compromised.