The currently available evidence supports the theory that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese laboratory, former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield was set to tell members of Congress on March 8.
“From the earliest days of the pandemic, my view was that both theories about the origin of COVID-19 needed to be aggressively and thoroughly examined. Based on my initial analysis of the data, I came to believe—and still believe today—that it indicates COVID-19 infections more likely were the result of an accidental lab leak than the result of a natural spillover event,” Redfield, who directed the CDC during the Trump administration, said in his prepared opening remarks to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
“This conclusion is based primarily on the biology of the virus itself, including its rapid high infectivity for human-to-human transmission which would then predict rapid evolution of new variants, as well as a number of other important factors to include the unusual actions in and around Wuhan in the fall of 2019, all of which I am happy to discuss today,” Redfield added.
Redfield was one of four people set to testify Wednesday on to the new committee, which is controlled by Republicans and is seeking to pin down where COVID-19 came from.
Some scientists still strongly support the natural origin theory but more than two years after the pandemic started, no host animal has been identified. Additionally, the virus itself contains signs it was engineered, according to some experts.
U.S. intelligence officials are divided over the origins. The FBI assesses that COVID-19 likely originated in the Wuhan lab, as does the Energy Department, but some other agencies lean towards the natural origin theory.
Redfield was also prepared to tell the panel that researching the origins is important.
“Even given the information that has surfaced in the three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, some have contended that there is no point in investigating the origins of this virus. I strongly disagree. There is a global need to know what we are dealing with in the COVID-19 virus because it affects how we approach the problem to try and prevent the next pandemic,” he wrote in his opening statement.
Because the current evidence supports the lab origin theory, and because the labs in China were conducting research that increased one or more functions of a virus—known as gain-of-function—there should be a halt to such experiments, Redfield asserted.
“Gain-of-function has long been controversial within the scientific community, and, in my opinion, the COVID-19 pandemic presents a case study on the potential dangers of such research. While many believe that gain-of-function research is critical to get ahead of viruses by developing vaccines, in this case, I believe it had the exact opposite result, unleashing a new virus on the world without any means of stopping it and resulting in the deaths of millions of people,” he said.
“Because of this, it is my opinion that we should call for a moratorium on all gain-of-function research until we can have a broader debate and come to a consensus as a community about the value of gain-of-function research. This debate should not be limited to the scientific community. If the decision is to continue gain-of-function research then it must be determined how and where to conduct this research in a safe, responsible, and effective way.”
Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at The Atlantic Council, was another scheduled witness. A self-identified Democrat, Metzl was prepared to tell the panel that an investigation into the origins was important because of the devastating impact of COVID-19, including a death toll in the millions.
“It is inconceivable that over three years after this deadly pandemic began, no comprehensive and unfettered investigation into pandemic origins has been carried out nor is one currently planned. Twenty million dead and counting and no comprehensive investigation. This injustice is an insult to every victim of this crisis and a clear threat to future generations,” Metzl said in his prepared opening remarks. “There’s a reason we leave no stone unturned when investigating a plane crash. We do it to make flying safer. Similarly, understanding how this pandemic began is essential to prioritizing our response. If, for example, we knew for certain the pandemic stems from a lab incident in Wuhan, I can assure you that efforts to regulate the rapid proliferation of high-containment, and all-too-often high risk, virology labs across the globe would get a massive boost.”
Metzl noted that the Chinese Communist Party has blocked efforts to investigate the origins, including destroying evidence and imprisoning journalists.
“This hearing must be only the beginning,” he said. “The most substantial work is ahead of us. We must fully investigate pandemic origins and begin building the national and international norms, systems, and structures to prevent this type of catastrophe from ever happening again.”
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