Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top adviser to President Biden on the coronavirus pandemic, said earlier this month that he’s “not convinced” that the virus didn’t originate from a lab outbreak in Wuhan, China — a theory for which he previously expressed doubt.
During a Poynter Institute-hosted event, “United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking” on May 11, Fauci was asked if he was still confident that the COVID-19 coronavirus developed naturally.
Fauci said, “No, I’m not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out to the best of our ability exactly what happened.”
“Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out,” Fauci continued. “So, you know, that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.”
In a Senate hearing on the same day, Fauci was similarly asked if it was possible that COVID-19 originated from a lab accident in Wuhan, to which Fauci responded, “That possibility certainly exists, and I am totally in favor of a full investigation of whether that could have happened.”
Fauci’s comments came amid new reporting lending weight to the theory that COVID-19 may have originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
This week, the Wall Street Journal reported, based on previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence, that three researchers at the WIV became sick enough in November 2019 to seek hospitalization with “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”
In the final days of President Donald Trump’s term, the U.S. State Department released a fact sheet showing links between COVID-19 and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Among the fact sheet’s assertions were that the WIV had conducted experiments on bat coronaviruses including a strain with a 96.2% genetic similarity to SARS-CoV-2, another medical designation for COVID-19.
In March, former Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said he believes “the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory.”
PolitiFact, a fact-checking project operated by the Poynter Institute archived for removal from its fact-checking database an article describing the COVID-19 lab origin theory as a “debunked conspiracy theory.” PolitiFact added a note to their previous fact-check, which states, “When this fact-check was first published in September 2020, PolitiFact’s sources included researchers who asserted the SARS-CoV-2 virus could not have been manipulated. That assertion is now more widely disputed. For that reason, we are removing this fact-check from our database pending a more thorough review. Currently, we consider the claim to be unsupported by evidence and in dispute.”
Fauci himself has previously expressed doubt in the lab outbreak theory, which then-President Trump had referenced multiple times to criticize China and the World Health Organization’s handling of the outbreak. During a May 2020 interview with National Geographic, Fauci was asked whether COVID-19 could have come from a lab. Fauci said, “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats, and what’s out there now is very, very strongly leaning toward this [virus] could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.”