Anthony Fauci has defended the United States' 'modest' and 'very respectable' funding of the Wuhan laboratory - which is now at the center of speculation as a possible source of the COVID-19 virus.
Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), appeared before a Congressional budget committee on Tuesday.
He defended allocating $600,000 to a group called EcoHealth Alliance, which then paid the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study the risk that bat coronaviruses could infect humans.
Under the terms of the funding, the money could not be spend on 'gain of function' research - a controversial practice which explores how viruses mutate and become more transmissible or more dangerous.
Fauci defends U.S giving $600K to Wuhan laboratory before COVID-19 outbreak https://t.co/4mEamMuaIC— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) May 26, 2021
Fauci said the research was essential, pointing out that the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s was eventually traced back to bats.
'I would have been almost a dereliction of our duty if we didn't study this, and the only way you can study these things is you've got to go where the action is,' he said.
'You don't want to study bats in Fairfax County, Virginia, to find out what the animal-human interface is that might lead to a jumping of species.
'So we had a modest collaboration with very respectable Chinese scientists who were world experts on coronavirus, and we did that through a sub-grant from a larger grant to EcoHealth.'
Fauci added: 'The larger grant was about $600,000 over a period of five years. So it was a modest amount. The purpose of it was to study the animal-human interface, to do surveillance and to determine if these bat viruses were even capable of' infecting humans.
Francis Collins, the director of NIH, had said earlier in the hearing that the American taxpayer money that went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was not approved to conduct gain of function research.
Funding by the U.S. government of research in Wuhan has become immensely controversial.
On May 10 Tucker Carlson used his Fox News show to question 'the deadly experiments that were going on there'.
The following day Rand Paul, senator for Kentucky, grilled Fauci about the funding - which was reinstated with a different grant in August, NPR reported, after another earlier grant was blocked in April 2020 amid concern over safety at the Wuhan lab.
Paul insisted that the money was being used for gain of function research: Fauci insisted it was not.
'You are entirely and completely incorrect,' Fauci told Paul at the heated hearing.
'The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute.'
Paul, an ophthalmologist, wouldn't let up, repeatedly questioning Fauci on the matter, which has emerged in conservative circles as a theory tied to the origins of the coronavirus.
'Could you rule out a laboratory escape?' Paul asked Fauci.
'The answer in this case is probably not. Will you in front of this group categorically say that the COVID-19 could not have occurred through serial passage in a laboratory.'
Fauci replied: 'I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done and I'm fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China.
'However I will repeat again, the NIH and NIAD categorically has not funded gain of function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute,' he added.
Paul told Fauci: 'You're fooling with mother nature here. You're allowing super viruses to be created with a 15% mortality. It's very dangerous and it was a huge mistake to share this with China.
'We should be very careful to investigate where this virus came from.'
Fauci replied: 'I fully agree that you should investigate where the virus came from. But again, we have not funded gain of function research on this virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
'No matter how many times you say it, it didn't happen.'
Fauci on Tuesday reiterated his comments, telling Mark Pocan, a congressman for Wisconsin, that 'there was nothing in the grant application and or the description of the grant, that would call for what is referred to as gain of function.
'That categorically was not done.'
Fauci is among the scientists now asking for more information about what happened inside the lab - having previously been skeptical about the theory that the virus escaped from a lab.
Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a statement saying that he had been right all along about the 'lab leak' hypothesis.
'Now everybody is agreeing that I was right when I very early on called Wuhan as the source of COVID-19, sometimes referred to as the China Virus,' he said.
'To me it was obvious from the beginning but I was badly criticized, as usual.
'Now they are all saying 'He was right.' Thank you!'
US liberal media's Covid U-turn: A year after TRASHING theory that COVID originated from a Wuhan lab because Trump supported the suggestion - America's woke mainstream news outlets suddenly start asking if it's true!
The liberal media have finally conceded that COVID-19 may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory - after a year spent ridiculing the suggestion.
The first fatality from COVID-19 was reported by Chinese state media on January 11, 2020, when a 61-year-old man who was a regular customer at a market in Wuhan died. The first confirmed case in the United States was 10 days later, when a man returned to Washington state from Wuhan.
Within a week, on January 26, 2020, the first article blaming the Wuhan Institute of Virology for the outbreak was published, in The Washington Times. Yet most mainstream media disputed the claims, dismissing them outright or even decrying them as racist.
When Donald Trump, on May 1, 2020, said he had 'a high degree of confidence' that the virus escaped from a lab, the New York Times, CNN, and NPR were quick to mock his comments.
CNN, which by the end of the Trump administration was brazen in its hostility to the president and his advisors, was almost gleeful in its mockery of the idea that the virus could have come from a laboratory.
The Washington Post, New York Times, and NPR were equally dismissive of suggestions that the virus could have come from a laboratory.
Some outlets, such as the Huffington Post, even branded any suggestion the virus could have stemmed from a lab as a 'toxic conspiracy theory.'
Few were able to suggest that COVID-19 could have stemmed from a research facility without backlash but that didn't stop some media, including the Daily Mail, from questioning the narrative.
Fox News' Tucker Carlson was also clear in demanding an investigation into whether it could have escaped from the lab.
Finally, in the past few months, came the first signs that opinion was beginning to change.
In January, a World Health Organization (WHO) report only served to raise more questions after Beijing strictly controlled an on-site visit and who the researchers compiling the report spoke to. The WHO team was only allowed three hours inside the Wuhan lab and was unable to examine any of the Wuhan institute's safety logs or records of testing on its staff.
China's actions led to Biden's White House calling for greater transparency.
Even Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said that the visit was inconclusive, adding that 'all hypotheses are open' and warranted future study.
By May 11, the leading public health expert in the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci, had accepted that the idea of the virus escaping from a lab had been too quickly dismissed.
Asked whether the virus originated naturally, Fauci replied that he wants to look closer into the matter.
'I am not convinced about that,' he said. 'I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened.
'Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out. So, you know, that's the reason why I said I'm perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.'
Fauci's revelation came as a shock to many on the left who have accepted China's narrative that coronavirus spread from a wet market since the virus first emerged.
Of course, China continues to insist that COVID-19 did not originate in the Wuhan lab.
'The U.S. keeps concocting inconsistent claims and clamoring to investigate labs in Wuhan,' China's foreign ministry said in a written statement on May 24. This fully shows that some people in the U.S. don't care about facts and truth.'
On May 1, 2020, CNN reported that Trump had 'contradicted' the intel community by claiming to have seen evidence the virus came from a lab.
'President Donald Trump contradicted a rare on-the-record statement from his own intelligence community by claiming Thursday that he has seen evidence that gives him a "high degree of confidence" the novel coronavirus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, but declined to provide details to back up his assertion.
'The comments undercut a public statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued just hours earlier which stated no such assessment has been made and continues to "rigorously examine" whether the outbreak "began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan."
"Yes, I have," Trump said when asked whether he's seen evidence that would suggest the virus originated in the lab. Later, asked why he was confident in that assessment, Trump demurred.
"I can't tell you that. I'm not allowed to tell you that," the report read.
Then on May 5, 2020, their editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote a scathing attack on the suggestion, entitled: Anthony Fauci just crushed Donald Trump's theory on the origins of the coronavirus.
'Before we play the game of 'he said, he said' remember this: Only one of these two people is a world-renowned infectious disease expert. And it's not Donald Trump,' Cillizza wrote.
'In short, Fauci's view on the origins of the disease matters a whole lot more than Trump's opinion about where it came from.
Among the many reasons I raised questions to Dr. Fauci about COVID escaping from Wuhan, and among the many reasons we should never have been funding Wuhan or any type of gain of function virus creation:https://t.co/z6eK2u57vk— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 24, 2021
'Especially because, outside of Trump and his immediate inner circle, most people in a position to know are very, very skeptical of the Trump narrative that the virus came out of a lab - whether accidentally or on purpose.'
Cillizza's article followed on from one four days earlier, headlined: 'Trump contradicts US intel community by claiming he's seen evidence coronavirus originated in Chinese lab'.
Yet fast forward almost a year, and the tone had greatly changed.
Dr Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, spoke on March 26 this year to Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).
Redfield said that he had concluded the virus escaped from a lab.
'I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped,' he said.
'Now, other people don't believe that, that's fine. Science will eventually figure it out.
'It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in the laboratory to infect the laboratory worker.'
On May 23, The Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report
The following day the paper reported on a mysterious mine around 80 miles outside Wuhan where, in April 2012, six miners here fell sick after entering the mine to clear bat guano. Three of them died.
Chinese scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were called in to investigate and, after taking samples from bats in the mine, identified several new coronaviruses. Yet they were not forthcoming with their information.
On May 24, CNN admitted that there may be more to the Wuhan lab than initially believed. They published an update: New information on Wuhan researchers' illness furthers debate on pandemic origins
But Cilizza is still standing by his earlier claims it isn't.
He wrote an opinion piece on why Dr. Fauci was 'hedging' on the subject, and said just because Fauci said he was no longer 'convinced' of the origins, it didn't mean he thought it came from a lab.
New York Times
When any Trump-supporting lawmakers said that the Wuhan lab theory merited further exploration, the New York Times was quick to dismiss their claim.
In the first month of the pandemic they seized on questions raised by Tom Cotton, the Republican senator for Arkansas.
'We don't have evidence that this disease originated there,' Cotton said.
'But because of China's duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all.'
His words, on February 17, 2020, would prove prescient - yet the New York Times headlined its coverage: Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins.
By April 30, 2020, the paper was describing the efforts from the Trump administration to get to the bottom of the virus' origins as a political witch hunt.
'Senior Trump administration officials have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a government laboratory in Wuhan, China, was the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, according to current and former American officials,' the paper reported.
'The effort comes as President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic.'
The story was headlined: Trump Officials Are Said to Press Spies to Link Virus and Wuhan Labs
Yet this month two former science reporters at the paper - Nicholas Wade, who retired in 2012, and Donald McNeil, who left earlier this year amid a row about his language while guiding a tour of Peru - both said they now felt it was possible, indeed perhaps likely, that the virus came from a lab.
'In early spring 2020, I reported an article for The New York Times on which I put the tentative headline: 'New Coronavirus Is 'Clearly Not a Lab Leak,' Scientists Say,'' McNeil wrote on Medium.
'It never ran.'
He said that the paper was sharply divided over whether to believe the Trump officials saying it was a lab leak, or the scientists saying it wasn't.
'We still do not know the source of this awful pandemic. We may never know,' he wrote.
'But the argument that it could have leaked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology or a sister lab in Wuhan has become considerably stronger than it was a year ago, when the screaming was so loud that it drowned out serious discussion.
'And China's lack of candor is disturbing.'
Wade came to the same conclusion.
'Neither the natural emergence nor the lab escape hypothesis can yet be ruled out. There is still no direct evidence for either. So no definitive conclusion can be reached,' he wrote.
'That said, the available evidence leans more strongly in one direction than the other. Readers will form their own opinion.
'But it seems to me that proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favor natural emergence.'
Reporters for an article published on April 30, 2020, provided a nuanced and in-depth analysis of the Wuhan laboratory's work, and emphasized the risks involved.
Yet their headline read: Chinese lab conducted extensive research on deadly bat viruses, but there is no evidence of accidental release.
The following day, the dismissive tone continued: Was the new coronavirus accidentally released from a Wuhan lab? It's doubtful.
By May 24 this year, the paper was very close to admitting that they had been blinkered.
'Given everything we know about how Trump handled such things, caution and skepticism were invited,' wrote Aaron Blake, a senior political reporter at the paper.
'That (very much warranted) caution and skepticism spilled over into some oversimplification, particularly when it came to summarizing the often more circumspect reporting.'
He admitted: 'We might never truly know the truth.'
As concern was mounting about the virus in the spring of 2020, The Huffington Post was rapidly ridiculing all question of its origins.
'A Toxic 'Infodemic': The Viral Spread Of COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories,' they headlined a story on April 7, 2020.
Yet a little over a year later, on May 24 of this year, the site followed up on the Wall Street Journal's report into the hospitalization of the Wuhan lab workers in 2019, and the issues that this raised.
'Wuhan Researchers Were Hospitalized With COVID-19 Symptoms Pre-Pandemic: Reports,' they wrote.
On April 23, 2020, NPR stated: 'Virus researchers say there is virtually no chance that the new coronavirus was released as result of a laboratory accident in China or anywhere else.'
The radio news network was determined to prove that there was no credibility to the Wuhan lab leak theory, and produced a series of 'explainers' insisting that COVID-19 was transmitted from animals to humans.
'Where Did This Coronavirus Originate? Virus Hunters Find Genetic Clues In Bats,' they reported on April 15, 2020.
et a little over a year later, NPR was following the WHO's report - and its worrying conclusions - with interest.
'Theory That COVID Came From A Chinese Lab Takes On New Life In Wake Of WHO Report,' they concluded.
On March 31, they reported: Calls For An Open Investigation Into The Possibility COVID-19 Leaked From A Lab.
Among those watching the evolving news lines was Mike Pompeo, Trump's secretary of state.
'Over a year ago, I told @MarthaRaddatz that the Wuhan Virus most likely came from a lab leak,' he tweeted on May 20.
'She stopped just short of offering me a tin hat. The CCP said I was an enemy of mankind,' he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
'And now? Well, now, the Left wing media is scrambling to get on the side of the truth.'
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.