WASHINGTON: Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top health expert and the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has said that he is "not convinced" that the COVID-19 virus which affected millions across the globe developed naturally.
Dr Fauci even called for an open investigation into the origin of the deadly virus. The top US health expert made these remarks during an event, United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking event.
"There’s a lot of cloudiness around the origins of COVID-19 still, so I wanted to ask, are you still confident that it developed naturally?" he said. He said this in response to a question asked by PolitiFact’s Katie Sanders.
"I am not convinced about that, I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened," he said during the event, which was held earlier this month but overlooked by most media outlets.
"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. 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," Dr Fauci said, according to Fox News.
Senater Rand Paul had asked Dr Fauci during a Senate hearing last Tuesday to categorically say that “the COVID-19 virus could not have occurred by serial passage in a laboratory?"
Dr Fauci did not explicitly rule out such a possibility but said he was fully in favour of any further investigation of what went on in China. He repeated that the NIH and NIAID categorically have not funded gain of function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology."
This comes in the light of claims made by Paul that funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had been funneled to the controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology -- the Chinese lab that is believed to have played a role in the initial outbreak of COVID-19.
Paul specifically zeroed in on gain of function research - which works on making pathogens deadlier or more easily transmissible. He had alleged that a US virologist had been working with the Chinese institute on such research and said it was funded by the NIH.
It may be noted that the Donald Trump administration officials and Republicans have long argued there is a high chance COVID-19 was the result of a lab leak in China.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had last week declared the lab leak theory "extremely unlikely", but even Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO chief, has said the research team’s assessment on whether the virus entered the human population following a laboratory incident was not "extensive enough" and requires further investigation.
The White House has also joined calls for an independent investigation into Covid's origins. Press secretary Jen Psaki said this week the Biden administration has conveyed both publicly and privately that the Chinese government was "not transparent from the beginning".