The former director of the Centers for Disease Control received death threats from fellow scientists after he said during a TV interview that he believed COVID-19 originated in a lab, according to an interview released Thursday.
Robert Redfield, who served as the CDC director under Donald Trump when the pandemic began, told CNN on March 26 that he thought the most likely ‘etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory – you know, escaped.’
He said he wasn’t insinuating that there was ill intent, but that was his opinion.
After that 10-second sound bite, he told Vanity Fair he was ‘threatened and ostracized because I proposed another hypothesis.’ At the time, the Wuhan lab leak was widely considered a ‘fringe theory’ at best, in favor of transmission from an animal to a human.
The Vanity Fair article said ‘death threats flooded his inbox’ from strangers who said he was being racist to prominent scientists, even some he considered friends. One told him to ‘wither and die,’ Vanity Fair reported.
‘I expected it from politicians. I didn’t expect it from science,’ Redfield said.
Robert Redfield, who served as the CDC director under Donald Trump when the pandemic began, said on CNN that he thought the most likely ‘etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped’
The idea the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan lab was at best a ‘fringe theory’ until recently, when the Biden administration ordered a review
Stephen Goldstein, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Utah, wrote an opinion piece on Webpagetoday on April 5 shooting down Redfield’s assertions on CNN.
‘Questions are undoubtedly going to persist about the origin of SARS-CoV-2 until, and if, a definitive answer is uncovered (and perhaps beyond),’ Goldstein wrote. ‘Until then, it’s imperative that leaders in science, public health, and government continue to call for rigorous study and stick to the science of viral evolution and viral ecology in their public commentary.
‘One of the fundamental principles of a life in science is to admit what you don’t know, and never be afraid to look it up. That’s where Redfield falls short, unfortunately on a big stage.’
The comments he made to Vanity Fair were published as part of a months long investigation into the origin of COVID-19 that included interviews with more than 40 people and a review of hundreds of pages of U.S. government documents (including internal memos, meeting minutes and emails).
The magazine outlined the first moments Redfield heard about a mysterious new pneumonia affecting people in a Wuhan market from Dr. George Fu Gao, head of the Chinese CDC, on January 3, 2020.
Redfield told Vanity Fair that he thought it was odd that family clusters were getting sick, and Gao later told Redfield that many cases had nothing to do with the market.
That’s when it became apparent the virus was jumping from person to person, and Redfield told Vanity Fair he immediately thought of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
He wanted to send researchers to the facility to rule it out, but the Chinese didn’t allow it, Vanity Fair reported.
‘A team could rule it out as a source of the outbreak in just a few weeks, by testing researchers there for antibodies,’ according to Vanity Fair.
Redfield’s two-year tenure as CDC director ended when the new administration took over, but the debate over the coronavirus’ origin heated up last week.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies at a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 16, 2020
On May 28, President Joe Biden said his administration is joining other nations to pressure China to be more open about the outbreak. He ordered intelligence officials to ‘redouble’ efforts to establish the origins of COVID-19 and report back in 90 days. U.S. national laboratories were directed to assist with the investigation.
China, meanwhile, insists that the virus simply mutated and passed naturally from animals to humans from a Wuhan market.
The two major competing origin theories – bat to human or lab escape – have resurfaced since The Washington Post and Buzzfeed published Dr. Anthony Fauci’s emails on Tuesday.
Fauci doubled down Thursday on his belief that the virus came from a bat in the Wuhan market, but left the door open for the possibility of a lab escape.
ORIGINS OF COVID-19: THE THEORIES
US state officials have given momentum to the idea that COVID-19 either leaked from a lab or was man-made by China as some kind of weapon against humanity.
A Wuhan wet market was first thought to be the breeding ground of the virus, where the selling of live, wild animals would have given the perfect opportunity for it to naturally spread between species.
It is thought the virus first developed in bats before passing on to a creature such as a pangolin that then came into contact with humans and transmitted the virus.
Once it entered humans, the coronavirus is likely to have mutated to survive and then escalated out of control as a result of an unprepared population.
There are also theories that the virus was genetically engineered by scientists, or that it has actually been around for years and even killed people in the past.
Two high security laboratories in the city – the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology – have been the subject of many conspiracy theories.
President Donald Trump claims he has seen evidence the virus, which he solely blames China for, came from Wuhan Institute of Virology – but he is not allowed to reveal it.
The Institute has denied the claims from the early days of the outbreak.
In April, Trump said: ‘We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened.’
Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, claimed in May there is ‘enormous evidence’ the coronavirus outbreak originated in a Chinese laboratory – but failed to provide any of the alleged evidence.