(CNSNews.com) – Ahead of the release by the World Health Organization (WHO) of a report into a coronavirus origin-tracing study, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield raised eyebrows by telling CNN that he believes the likeliest origin of the outbreak was a spillover from a laboratory in China.
“I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory – you know, escaped,” Redfield told CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a clip aired on Friday.
Redfield, a virologist, acknowledged that others disputed that theory, adding, “That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out.”
“It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker,” he pointed out.
Redfield added that he was “not implying any intentionality” in relation to the possible leak from the lab.
Gupta, and CNN presenter John Berman, both used the term “extraordinary” to describe the comments.
The New York Times posted a report headlined, “Ex-CDC Director Favors Debunked Covid-19 Origin Theory.”
The headline was subsequently changed to read, “The CDC’s ex-director offers no evidence in favoring speculation that the coronavirus originated in a lab.”
The New York Times changed its headline from ‘Ex-CDC Director Favors Debunked Covid-19 Origin Theory’ (still visible in the top left tab) to ‘The CDC’s ex-director offers no evidence in favoring speculation that the coronavirus originated in a lab.’ (Image: NYT/CNSNews)
As other media outlets and commentators have done over the past year, the Times report effectively conflated two so-called “lab theories” – one, that the virus was deliberately created in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) or another Chinese lab, possibly as some sort of bioweapon; and two, that a virus being studied in a lab had in some way accidentally leaked out into the wider community.
While it has not been proven, it is inaccurate to say the latter theory has been “debunked.”
The Times report cited from an Office of the Director of National Intelligence assessment last April to the effect that the intelligence community (IC) “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”
But it failed to quote – from the same ODNI statement – the assertion that the intelligence community would “continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
When the WHO-arranged team of international and Chinese experts concluded their visit to Wuhan in February, they said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had leaked from a lab in Wuhan.
But the Biden administration said it was withholding judgment on that assessment, and skeptical scientists have called for a truly independent forensic investigation into the origins of the outbreak, including the lab-leak theory.
As reported previously, WIV is China’s specialist lab for investigating pathogens including bat coronaviruses. In 2013, WIV researchers collected a coronavirus from bat feces in a cave in China’s Yunnan province. The novel coronavirus was named RaTG13.
In the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan – six weeks before the WHO declared a pandemic, researchers at WIV themselves reported in a scientific journal that the virus causing COVID-19 shared 96 percent genome sequence identity with RaTG13.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on more than one occasion drew attention to inherently-risky “gain-of-function” research being carried out at WIV. Designed to increase the transmissibility and/or virulence of a pathogen, gain-of-function experiments are intended to help pandemic preparedness and develop countermeasures.
Last week, Democrats in the House Foreign Affairs Committee argued that naming China or the WIV and its gain-of-function research in public health security legislation would boost anti-Asian sentiment in the United States.
‘Jury Is Still Out’: US Withholding Judgment After WHO Says COVID Did Not Leak From Wuhan Lab (Feb. 10, 2021)
As Experts Probing Virus Origin Quarantine in Wuhan, Pompeo Calls Again For Lab Scrutiny (Jan. 18, 2021)