Lawmakers and medical experts are calling for continued scrutiny into the origins of COVID-19 following a Wednesday hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
During the Wednesday hearing, former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield; Dr. Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council; author and journalist Nicholas Wade; and Dr. Paul Auwaerter, professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, shared their analyses of the competing theories that COVID-19 was the result of a natural outbreak or that it was the result of a laboratory leak.
Redfield described the lab leak theory as the more likely scenario. Auwaerter testified that U.S. government agencies have assessed with “low” to “moderate” confidence that COVID-19 was the result of a lab leak, while “many virologists believe compelling evidence points to an animal origin,” and said “making claims that cannot be supported sufficiently by available data fuels confusion and mistrust.”
Some of the witnesses specifically criticized initial efforts to identify the source of the virus and the Chinese regime’s role in minimizing access to investigate the origins of the virus.
Regardless of the actual origin of COVID-19, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) said China’s moves to withhold information from investigators “makes it more suspicious, potentially, for a lab leak.”
“The lack of transparency, the lack of, from day one, allowing the world’s best scientists to get into the hot zone, to understand what was going on, probably has prevented us from getting control of this pandemic much faster,” Bera told NTD.
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) said the witness testimony was helpful and provided new information, but raised further questions in her mind about China’s potential role in the virus outbreak.
“There’s still questions and there will be questions because China covered it up,” Lesko told NTD.
Early ‘False Consensus’ on COVID Origin
Metzl, who has described himself as a Democrat and progressive, said the initial efforts to investigate the cause of COVID-19 were inadequate. He testified to the subcommittee that a 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) effort to investigate the virus outbreak “was a disaster.” Metzl noted that an international WHO research team spent two of the four weeks of their research visit in quarantine, “had very limited access to raw data and was not even allowed unrestricted access to their Chinese counterparts.”
Metzl told NTD that these early failures to thoroughly investigate the origins of the virus allowed the scientific consensus to coalesce around a preferred narrative of the Chinese regime, which attributed the virus outbreak to animal interactions rather than the possibility that the virus was the result of negligent experimentation with deadly diseases.
“Unfortunately, in my view, a false consensus was essentially pushed on the general public in the early days, and that stuck, and it took a whole lot of work of a small handful of people, certainly over the course of that first year, but really for three years to begin to shift perceptions,” Metzl said. “And now I think people are much more open-minded about the two real possibilities, and we heard that here. There was 100 percent consensus of all of the Congress people that a lab origin is a very real possibility.”
During the hearing, Metzl also testified that though the Chinese regime supports the idea of a natural outbreak with COVID-19 jumping from an animal to human host, the regime has yet to find which animal may have acted as the intermediary host. Metzl noted that in previous virus outbreaks, such as the 2002 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China and the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in Saudi Arabia, researchers were able to find the intermediate species that transferred the virus to humans relatively quickly.
“The Chinese government has actually been very aggressive in trying to find that kind of intermediary host animal,” Metzl testified. “They’ve sequenced about 100,000 animals. They haven’t found anything.”
Metzl told NTD he believes the reason so many people rejected the lab leak theory in favor of the animal-to-human transmission theory was because “many people had invested decades of their lives into building these kinds of scientific collaborations with China and other countries.”
In April 2020, EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak personally emailed National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to thank him for publicly opposing the lab leak theory. The EcoHealth Alliance has ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Lesko said, “There are questions revolving Dr. Fauci’s involvement with trying to promote just one thesis” about the origin of COVID-19.
“It’s very unlikely that [COVID-19] escaped from a wet market, a bat, whatever their excuse was at first,” Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), who is not on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic but serves on the House GOP Doctors Caucus, told NTD. “And then we saw the administration, CDC, many others, Big Tech, try to shut down any kind of dialogue, any kind of discussion on where this thing emanated from.”
Babin also questioned the consensus that formed around closing schools and masking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
Bipartisan Calls for Answers
Calls for information on the origins of COVID-19 are gathering bipartisan support. Last week, the Senate voted unanimously on a bill to declassify any and all information linking COVID-19 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This week, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) backed a similar Republican-led bill in the House to declassify intelligence about the potential lab leak.
“The international global health community should speak with one voice, that ‘Let’s actually just get to the facts and understand this,'” Bera told NTD. “This isn’t about pointing blame. This is about understanding how this virus started, and what we can do to prevent it in the future.”
In May 2021, President Joe Biden tasked the U.S. intelligence community with conducting a review of its findings on the possible origins of COVID-19, including any intelligence supporting the lab leak theory.
“I appreciate the Biden administration’s continued efforts to continue to look for data but unless we’re able to get into the hot zone, get into China—we may never discover it because if they destroyed data, then you know, they’re obviously hiding something,” Bera said.