Nevertheless, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CBS’ Weijia Jiang that he would support a more thorough investigation into the origins of the virus, just as he always has.
“Dr. Fauci tells me that his opinion about the origins of COVID-19 have not changed: He believes that it is ‘highly likely’ that it first occurred naturally before spreading from animal to human,” Jiang, CBS’ senior White House correspondent, tweeted Monday. “Since no one is 100% sure, he’s open to a thorough investigation.”
Jiang posed the question to Fauci on Monday, hours after The Wall Street Journal and CNN surfaced a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill and had to be hospitalized a month before China reported its first COVID-19 cases in 2019.
Yuan Zhiming, the director of the institute’s Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, responded in state-run media, dismissing the report as “a complete lie.”
Fauci told Jiang he was unaware of the illnesses, adding that just because he’s advocating for a more transparent inquiry into COVID’s origins doesn’t mean he’s endorsing any theory. He just wants more data.
It may be that Fauci is at pains to clarify this point after some outlets this week seized upon an interview he gave PolitiFact earlier this month as ostensible “evidence” that he believes the virus did not develop naturally.
Asked if he is “still confident that [SARS-CoV-2] developed naturally,” Fauci preached caution and invited a more thorough inquiry:
No, I’m not convinced about that. I think that 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’ve investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could’ve been something else, and we need to find that out. So that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.
That’s similar to the answer Fauci gave Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) earlier this month, when, in response to a difficult-to-follow line of questioning from Paul, Fauci emphasized: “I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done, and I’m fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China.”