New Delhi: Top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci called on China to release medical records of workers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which could provide insight into whether the coronavirus emerged from a lab leak, the Financial Times reported Thursday. However, in an interview to American news channel MSNBC, he said the world may never find out the true origins of the disease.
“I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019. Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with?” Fauci was quoted as saying in the Financial Times report.
On 23 May, the Wall Street Journal, citing a previously undisclosed US intelligence report, reported that three researchers from Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care.
In the MSNBC interview, Fauci maintained that the virus is more likely to have naturally jumped from one species to another.
“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,” Fauci said. “Those are open possibilities. We may not ever find out what that is.”
In July 2020, Shi Zhengli, who directs the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, denied there were any infections at the lab — a claim Fauci did not counter, but said should be looked into.
The debate around the origin of Covid-19 and a possible lab leak has been hotly contested in recent days. Last week, President Joe Biden ordered a closer US intelligence investigation into the origins of Covid-19, asking for a report in 90 days. The probe is meant to determine one of two scenarios — if the virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.
The virus was first discovered near Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on 31 December 2019. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia at the time. Since then, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has studied coronaviruses in the past, has been at the center of the debate on the origins of the deadly virus, which has killed more than 37 lakh people.
‘In China’s interest to find out origin of Covid’
During the MSNBC interview, Fauci said it is more likely that Covid originated from a “natural jumping of species from animal reservoir to a human”.
“However, since we don’t know that for sure, you’ve got to keep an open mind,” he said. Citing the SARS-CoV-1 and Ebola outbreaks, he said diseases emerging from a reservoir in an animal “happen all the time”.
When asked why it has been difficult to ascertain the origin of Covid-19, Fauci said, “We need better access to all the information. It’s obviously in China’s interest to find out exactly what it is.”
He also criticised China for cleaning and disinfecting the Wuhan wet market after cases rose in December 2019. Calling it an “epidemiological mistake”, he said this could have “wiped out evidence” of the virus jumping from one species to another.
“You need to keep looking with an open mind, not in a pejorative way of thinking that they [China] did something nefarious,” he added.
In late January 2021, a 14-member WHO team of international scientists visited the wet market, known as Huanan Seafood Market, and concluded that it’s extremely unlikely that there was a lab incident.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)