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Former CDC director thinks coronavirus originated in China lab

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 5:22 PM EDT
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(CNN) - The former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director is expressing his belief that COVID-19 began in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

In an interview with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, former CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said he believed the virus started transmitting somewhere in September or October in Wuhan, the city where it was first discovered.

“That’s my own feelings and only opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now,” Redfield said. “You know, I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely ideology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped. 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 a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker.”

It also is not unusual for that type of research to occur in Wuhan.

The city is a widely known center for viral studies in China, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has experimented extensively with bat coronaviruses.

Redfield was director of the CDC when the outbreak happened. For the first time, he is stating publicly that he believes this pandemic started months earlier than people knew and that it originated not at a wet market but inside a lab.

“That’s not implying any intentionality, you know?” Redfield said. “It’s my opinion, all right, but I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology. I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human. And at that moment in time, the virus came to the human, became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission.

“Normally, when a pathogen goes from a zoonosis to human, it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient in human-to-human transmission. I just don’t think this makes biological sense.”

Redfield suggested the process of becoming more efficient could have happened in a lab.

“Let’s just say I have coronavirus that I’m working on. Most of us in a lab when trying to grow a virus, we try to help make it grow better and better and better … so we can do experiments and figure out about it,” Redfield said. “That’s the way I’d put it together.”

More of Redfield’s opinions can be seen in a 2-hour special called “COVID War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out.”

The event can be seen on CNN on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

The World Health Organization calls the lab leak theory Redfield is proposing “extremely unlikely.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in response that he believes Redfield was expressing an opinion and an option of what happened.

Fauci said most public health officials agree the virus “likely was below the radar screen, spreading in the community in China for several weeks, if not a month or more, which allowed it when it first got recognized clinically to be pretty well adapted.”

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