Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical advisor to the president, had been warned early last year that SARS-CoV-2 was possibly engineered around the same time he was publicly downplaying the idea that the virus escaped from a laboratory.
On Jan. 31, 2020, a little more than a month before the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic, Fauci sent an email to infectious disease expert Kristian Andersen and Sir Jeremy Farrar, who runs a global health charity in London.
The email included a link to an article titled, “Mining coronavirus genomes for clues to the outbrebioweaponsak’s origins.” Fauci said it just came out that day and that it was “of interest” to discussions about the virus at the time.
Andersen, head of a genomics laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute in California, wrote back that night, saying that the virus looks normal on a phylogenetic tree or from an evolutionary perspective.
However, the unusual features of the virus, which make it a novel virus to researchers, make up a small part of its genome. This is why their phylogenetic analyses couldn’t tell for sure whether the sequences of the new coronavirus were unusual at individual residues except if they were completely off, added Andersen.
Therefore, one has to look closely at all of the virus’s sequences to determine that some of its features look engineered. Andersen also said he and his colleagues find the virus inconsistent with “expectations from evolutionary theory.” But further analyses need to be done so those opinions could still change, he said.
Meanwhile, Farrar sent an email to Fauci and other top U.S. health officials two days later. He asked them to a conference call to discuss their response to a pending announcement from the WHO.
More than 2,000 pages of Fauci’s emails, posted Tuesday, June 1, by Buzzfeed News, also revealed that he and Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), corresponded in April 2020. The two talked about how some news outlets reported increased confidence that SARS-CoV-2 “began” in a Wuhan laboratory. Buzzfeed News obtained the emails through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
On April 16, 2020, Collins also sent Fauci and other health officials an email with a subject line that read, “conspiracy gains momentum.” But its contents were blacked out save for a link and Collins’s name at the end.
In an article about the emails, journalist and political commentator Raheem Kassam said the emails show that both the U.S. government and the scientific community had been considering an “engineered virus theory” since the beginning of the pandemic.
Many health officials and scientists had repeatedly dismissed that theory despite former President Donald Trump’s claims last year that he had evidence that SARS-CoV-2 came from a laboratory in Wuhan.
Since the pandemic began last March, Fauci had insisted that COVID-19 was the result of an “unusual human-animal interface” in a Chinese “wet market.” He also said that the mutations that occurred so far were consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human. Fauci was also adamant that SARS-Cov-2 was not man-made. Fauci had also repeatedly defended China from proponents of the so-called lab leak theory.
In an exclusive interview with National Geographic last May, Fauci said the scientific evidence was “very, very strongly leaning” toward the idea that the virus was not artificially or deliberately manipulated based on its evolution in bats.
However, Fauci has since changed his opinion about the matter. During an event last month called “United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking,” Fauci was asked if he was “still confident” that the virus evolved naturally. Fauci said he wasn’t convinced that was the case.
Moreover, he said the U.S. should continue to investigate “what went on in China” to determine the true origin of the virus. “Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals,” he said. “[But] it could have been something else, and we need to find that out.”
Fauci also said that’s the reason he is in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus. (Related: Email: Researcher who funded Wuhan lab admitted to manipulating coronaviruses, thanked Fauci for dismissing lab leak theory.)
Last month, Fauci also admitted to lawmakers that the NIH had allocated $600,000 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the laboratory from which SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have escaped, over a five-year period. The money would fund research on whether coronaviruses from bats could be transmitted to humans.
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