Donald Trump looks at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci as he answers a question during a daily coronavirus task force briefing – Reuters
Top US health official Anthony Fauci has said that there is no scientific evidence to support claims by Donald Trump that the new coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab.
Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been one of the leading medical experts helping to guide the US response to the highly contagious virus that has swept across the country.
Dr Fauci contradicted claims made by the US president that the global coronavirus pandemic started in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan in an interview published on Monday evening by National Geographic.
“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, (the scientific evidence) is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” Fauci told the magazine.
“Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that (this virus) evolved in nature and then jumped species,” he said.
The well-regarded doctor has at times corrected or contradicted the president at White House briefings or in press interviews on issues such as the time required to develop a vaccine and the likelihood that the coronavirus will return in the fall.
The World Health Organization also said on Monday that Washington had provided nothing to support “speculative” claims that a Wuhan lab was to blame for the outbreak.
“We have not received any data or specific evidence from the United States government relating to the purported origin of the virus – so from our perspective, this remains speculative,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual briefing.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said in comments on Tuesday that the most likely origin of the virus was a Chinese wet market, appearing to contradict Trump’s claims.
Scientists believe the killer virus jumped from animals to humans, emerging in China late last year, possibly from a market in Wuhan selling exotic animals for meat.
Mr Trump, increasingly critical of China’s management of the outbreak, claims to have proof it started in a Wuhan laboratory.
And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said “enormous evidence” backed up that claim, although the US intelligence community last week said it would continue to study whether the outbreak stemmed from infected animal contact, or a lab accident.
China has vehemently denied suggestions the lab was the source.
“Like any evidence-based organisation, we would be very willing to receive any information that purports to the origin of the virus,” Mr Ryan said, stressing that this was a very important piece of public health information for future control.
“If that data and evidence is available, then it will be for the United States government to decide whether and when it can be shared, but it is difficult for the WHO to operate in an information vacuum in that regard,” he added.