Dr. Anthony Fauci insisted Thursday that he still feels that the coronavirus pandemic began with a virus, but even if it began with a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, he doesn't think the release was intentional.
"The idea, I think, is quite far-fetched that the Chinese deliberately engineered something so that they could kill themselves as well as other people," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday on CNN's "New Day." "I think that's a bit far out."
Fauci's comments came during interviews on CNN and MSNBC in response to revelations surfacing after a trove of his emails was made public this week.
The doctor, who is President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor on COVID-19, insisted on both networks that even while some of the emails indicated early last year that he was aware that some of the coronavirus' features pointed toward its being engineered, he still leans toward the theory that it was transmitted from an animal.
"We're all in favor of a fair, open investigation to see if we can actually find out the origin, because we want to make sure this doesn't happen again," said Fauci, adding that he does not know if the possibility of a lab leak sounds more plausible now than it did a year ago.
The news that scientists from the Wuhan lab were ill in November 2019, before the news of the virus broke, has stimulated more interest, said Fauci, but the evidence still remains "very sparse" that the virus was engineered.
"If you look historically, the way things have rolled out, the original SARS-CoV-1, MERS, Ebola, the diseases that emerge from a reservoir and an animal, it happens all the time, and that's the reason why we feel that's the most likely," said Fauci.
"When you say possible, anything is possible," he continued. "I think one of the things that happened early on is that the scientists, you know, some people don't want to admit it, but the scientists in China, many of them are really very good scientists. I think epidemiology, one of the things that they did wrong is that they cleaned out the market as soon as there was this outrage for fear that it would spread even more."
But even though a natural link hasn't been found for COVID, that doesn't mean one does not exist, said Fauci.
"You need to keep looking for the link and you need to keep looking for evidence that it's something else like a lab leak," he said. "Those are open possibilities. We may not ever find out what that is. But what is not helpful is that very accusatory, pejorative nature of it, as opposed to keeping truly an open mind."
Fauci, on CNN, discussed an email from EcoHealth, one of the companies funding research at the Wuhan lab. In it, the writer thanked Fauci for saying he believes the origins of the coronavirus were natural. The email has led critics to say his relationship with the Wuhan lab was too cozy, but Fauci called that "nonsense."
"I don't even see how they get that from that email," he said. "That email was sent to me from them. I have always said and will say today to you, that I still believe the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human. But I keep an absolutely open mind that if there may be other origins of that, there may be another reason, it could have been a lab leak. I believe, if you look historically at what happens in the animal/human interface that, in fact, the more likelihood is that you're dealing with a jump of species. But I keep an open mind all the time."
In another exchange, National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins comments that the "conspiracy theory" on the lab origin was gaining steam, and Fauci said while he can't remember what the email said, he does not think the idea that China caused the virus was valid.
Another email, sent last February to ask Fauci if he recommended wearing a mask, has also gained steam because he said a mask would not be needed.
He pointed out Thursday that a lot more information was gathered in March and April of last year, and opinions were adjusted based on updated scientific knowledge.
"Of course, you are asking a question, would you have done something different if you know what you know now," he said. "Of course people would have done that. That's so obvious."
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