Chinese officials are “allegedly” hiding something about the origins of COVID

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said he is “keeping an open mind” about the origins of the pandemic.
  • Fauci told the audience that the Chinese government was “probably” hiding something about the origin of the virus.
  • But the evidence so far “points strongly in favor of a natural phenomenon” rather than a leak from a lab.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says he aims to “maintain complete openness” about how the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, China in 2019, but he would still like more information from the Chinese government.

Scientists and conspiracy theorists have been trying to find clear answers to the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus for many years. However, there is no satisfactory evidence that points to a single, bulletproof explanation for how this pandemic started.

Did the virus originate naturally in a bat or other animal host and then jump from animals to humans through transmission, perhaps in a wet market? Many scientists say this is highly likely. Maybe it leaked from the lab somewhere? It is also possible, but less likely.

“You want to be open to the fact that anything could have happened,” Fauci said Wednesday during a conversation with Atlantic editor Ross Andersen. “But the evidence they’ve been working on for years points to a natural phenomenon.”

Fauci says the Chinese government could “clear it up” if it really wanted to

Andersen also asked Fauci if he thought the Chinese government could help “clear this up” once and for all.

“Yes,” Fauci said.

But the doctor was careful to note that he was only referring to the “Chinese authorities,” not ordinary Chinese citizens or his scientific colleagues in China, who he said “have made great contributions to our knowledge.”

“The thing is, as a society, when something happens that looks like — even if it naturally comes from China — they’re going to cover it up,” Fauci said of the Chinese government. “Because of the feeling that they will be accused of something.”

The same style of cover-up happened in the early 2000s, during the first SARS outbreak. Although “everyone agrees” that the virus “clearly, without any doubt” came from a bat that transmitted the disease to another animal (probably in a wet market) before reaching humans. Fauci recalls the painstaking effort it took to get information about the outbreak from Chinese officials.

“They were just as reticent to talk about things openly and truthfully because that’s how society is run,” he said.

As it happens, advisers at the National Institutes of Health, where Fauci works, met this week to discuss stricter oversight of laboratory experiments involving deadly viruses.

Withholding information creates the perfect environment for conspiracy theories, Fauci said

“It’s natural, absolutely natural, for conspiracy theorists who think it’s a conspiracy to say, ‘See? They are hiding something.”

And, “they probably are,” Fauci said, but it may have nothing to do with the lab leak.

Wuhan wet market

A woman walks in front of the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, 12 January 2020.

NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

The virus may have jumped from animals to humans at a wet market in Wuhan, where clusters of illnesses first made headlines in late 2019.

Giving researchers access to these markets at an early stage would be invaluable in finding clear answers to where and how the pandemic started.

“Animals that were outlawed and not allowed to be in the market where people can come in contact with them were actually brought there because they bring in a lot of money,” Fauci said. “That’s what you really want them to open up to.”

“If we could easily go and do surveillance in China, we would have a lot more information than we do now,” he added.

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