The COVID-19 virus could potentially have escaped from a laboratory, one of the most senior health officials in the U.S. conceded on Wednesday, as House Republicans published their own report claiming ‘circumstantial evidence’ that the virus originated in a Wuhan facility.
The U.S. government has been at pains to downplay speculation that the virus was the result of an accident in China – although they are calling on Beijing to be more transparent about their role. They insist that it is far more likely that COVID-19 originated with animals, and spread naturally to humans.
Critics of the Biden administration have accused the government of not telling the whole truth, and not pushing hard enough, in a bid to avoid angering China.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) appeared before Congress on Wednesday for a hearing on their budget for the next fiscal year, starting on October 1.
Dr Rochelle Walensky testified before Congress on Wednesday about the CDC budget
John Kennedy, a senator for Louisiana, questioned Walensky about the origins of the virus
She was asked by Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, a Republican, how she believed the pandemic begun.
‘I don’t believe I’ve seen enough data, individual data for me to be able to comment on that,’ Walensky said.
Asked what the possibilities are, Walensky said, ‘Certainly the possibilities of, that most coronaviruses that we know of are of origin from, that have infected the population — SARS CoV-1, MERS — generally come from an animal origin.’
Kennedy responded: ‘Are there any other possibilities?’
‘Certainly a lab-based origin is one possibility,’ Walensky said.
She was also asked whether the United States was funding any ‘gain of function’ research – a risky and controversial technique, which plays around with a virus’ features such as transmissibility and lethality.
Walensky replied: ‘Not that I know of.’
She spoke as House Republicans on the Intelligence Committee published their own report into the virus.
A virologist is seen in February 2017 inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, China
The Wuhan laboratory has raised suspicion with its range of experiments
Researchers work in a lab of Wuhan Institute of Virology in China
They concluded that there is ‘significant circumstantial evidence’ that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In the report, obtained by Fox News, they urged the federal government to put ‘more pressure on China’ to allow for a ‘full, credible investigation’ into the source of the global pandemic.
Devin Nunes, a Republican representing California and the ranking member of the committee, said it was ‘crucial for health experts and the U.S. government to understand how the COVID-19 virus originated’ to prevent ‘or quickly mitigate future pandemics.’
Republicans said that China had a ‘history of research lab leaks resulting in infections.’
They emphasized warnings from U.S. diplomats in China as early as 2017 that the Wuhan lab was conducting ‘dangerous research’ on coronaviruses without following ‘necessary safety protocols, risking the accidental outbreak of a pandemic.’
Republicans also pointed to public reports that ‘several researchers in the Wuhan lab were sickened with COVID-19-like symptoms’ in Fall 2019, and the Chinese military’s ‘involvement in the Wuhan Lab.’
Nunes, a Republican representing California, is ranking member of the House Intel Committee
‘By contrast, little circumstantial evidence has emerged to support the PRC’s claim that COVID-19 was a natural occurrence, having jumped from some other species to human,’ they wrote, saying Chinese authorities ‘have failed to identify the original species that allegedly spread the virus to humans, which is critical to their zoonotic transfer theory.’
Nunes and other committee members have written to Joe Biden and Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, to demand more information into the origins of the virus,
The letters set a deadline of May 31 for their response.
The White House last month said it believes that China has ‘not been transparent’ in releasing its findings on the origins of COVID-19, as part of a report it wrote in collaboration with the World Health Organization.
The report dismissed claims that COVID-19 had escaped from a lab in Wuhan and instead said it was ‘likely to very likely’ that the virus came from animals.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, last month called on China and the WHO to allow international experts ‘unfettered access’ to data and to allow them to ask questions of people on the ground at the time of the outbreak.
Psaki said that U.S. medical experts are still reviewing the report, but the White House has lots of unanswered questions.