The theory that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
, escaped from China
Institute of Virology is disputed by Dr. Anthony Fauci
Nonetheless, Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, told CBS' Weijia Jiang that he would support a more thorough investigation
into the virus's origins, as he has in the past.
“Dr. Fauci tells me that his opinion about the origins of COVID-19 has not changed: he believes it is ‘highly likely’ that it first occurred naturally before spreading from animal to human,” Jiang, CBS’ senior White House
correspondent, tweeted Monday.
Jiang asked Fauci the question on Monday, just hours after The Wall Street Journal
revealed a previously unreleased US intelligence report that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill and had to be hospitalized a month before China reported its first COVID-19 cases in 2019.
Yuan Zhiming, director of the institute's Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, responded in state-run media
, calling the report "completely false."
Fauci told Jiang that he was unaware of the illnesses and that his support for a more transparent investigation into COVID's origins does not imply endorsement of any theory; he simply wants more data.
NEW: Dr. Fauci tells me that his views on the origins of COVID-19 have not changed: he believes it is “highly likely” that it first occurred naturally before spreading from animal to human, but since no one knows for certain, he is open to a thorough investigation. — Weijia Jiang (@weijia) May 24, 2021
Dr. Fauci stated that this does not imply that he believes the virus first emerged in a lab, as some have suggested, and that he is unaware of the three researchers at the Wuhan lab who sought hospital treatment in November 2019, as reported by the WSJ. — Weijia Jiang (@weijia) May 24, 2021
It's possible that Fauci is trying to clarify this point because some outlets this week seized on an interview
he gave PolitiFact earlier this month as ostensible "evidence" that he believes the virus did not evolve naturally.
When asked if he is “still confident that [SARS-CoV-2] developed naturally,” Fauci advised caution and invited further investigation:
No, I'm not convinced, and I believe we should keep looking into what happened in China until we figure out exactly what happened to the best of our abilities.
Certainly, those who have investigated it believe it was the emergence of the virus from an animal reservoir, but it could have been something else, and we need to find out what it was, which is why I stated that I am completely in favor of any investigation into the virus's origin.
That's similar to Fauci's response to Sen. Rand Paul
(R-Ky.) earlier this month, when, in response to a difficult-to-follow line of questioning from Paul, Fauci emphasized: "I have no accounting of what the Chinese may have done, and I'm fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China."