Chinese officials are ‘probably’ hiding something about the origin of COVID

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said he is “keeping a completely open mind” about the origins of the pandemic.
  • Fauci told an audience that the Chinese government was “probably” hiding something about the origin of the virus.
  • But the evidence so far “strongly favors a natural event” over a lab leak.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says he is dedicated to “keeping a completely open mind” about how the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, China in 2019, but still wishes he had more information from the Chinese government.

Scientists and conspiracy theorists have been anxious for years to find clear answers about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Yet, there is no satisfactory nail-in-the-coffin evidence that points to a single, bulletproof explanation for where this pandemic began.

Did the virus occur naturally in a bat or some other animal host, then jump from animals to humans in a case of spread, possibly in a wet market? Many scientists say this is a big possibility. Could it have leaked from a lab somewhere? Also possible, but less likely.

“You want to keep an open mind that it could have been whatever happened,” Fauci said Wednesday during a conversation with Atlantic editor Ross Andersen. “But the evidence they’ve been working on for years strongly supports a natural phenomenon.”

Fauci says the Chinese government can “clear this up” if it really wants to

Andersen also asked Fauci if he thought the Chinese government could help “clear this up” once and for all.

“Yes,” Fauci said.

But the doctor was careful to note that he was only referring to the deception by the “Chinese authorities”, not ordinary Chinese citizens, nor his scientific colleagues in China, who he said “have made great contributions to our knowledge”.

“The fact is that as a society, when something happens that looks like — even if it naturally comes from China — they’re going to be secretive about it,” Fauci said of the Chinese government. “Because of the feeling that they will be accused of something.”

The same style of cover-up occurred in the early 2000s, during the first SARS outbreak. Although “everyone agrees” that the virus “unequivocally, beyond a shadow of a doubt” arose from a bat that transmitted the disease to another animal (probably in a wet market) before getting into a human. Fauci recalls the painstaking effort it took to get information about this outbreak from Chinese officials.

They were so reticent to be open and honest about things because that’s the way society is run,” he said.

As it happens, advisers at the National Institutes of Health, where Fauci works, met this week to discuss tighter oversight of laboratory experiments involving deadly viruses.

Withholding information creates a perfect breeding ground for conspiracy theories, Fauci said

“Naturally, it’s only natural for conspiracy people who think it’s a conspiracy to say, ‘See? They are hiding something.”

And “they probably are,” Fauci said, but may not have anything to do with a lab leak at all.

Wuhan wet market

A woman walks outside the indoor Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China on January 12, 2020.

NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

The virus likely jumped from animals to humans at the wet market in Wuhan, where clusters of illnesses first made news in late 2019.

Giving researchers access to these markets at an early stage would be invaluable in the search for clear answers about where and how the pandemic started.

“Animals that were banned and not allowed to be in a market where people could have contact with them were actually brought there because they bring in a lot of money,” Fauci said. “That’s the thing you really want them to come clean about.”

“If we could easily go and do surveillance in China, we would get a lot more information than we have now,” he added.

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