“The challenge is that the side of the ledger that suggests it could have come out of a lab continued to expand. And one side of the registry that suggests it could be from a zoonotic source, getting out of the wild, really hasn’t budged, ”Gottlieb said in an interview with“ Face the Nation ”. “And if anything, you can say that this side of the ledger has twitched because we did an exhaustive search for the so-called intermediate host, the animal that might have been exposed to this virus before it does not spread to humans. We have not found such an animal. “
Renewed attention to the origins of COVID-19 came after the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China sought hospital treatment in November 2019 after falling ill. China, however, did not report the first case of the coronavirus until December 2019.
President Biden announced on Wednesday that he had ordered the U.S. intelligence community to “redouble” efforts to investigate the source of COVID-19 and set a 90-day deadline to “collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion ”on how the pandemic started.
While the president received a report from the intelligence community earlier this month exploring whether COVID-19 arose from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident, there is a gap between the agencies. intelligence, Biden said.
Gottlieb said the theory that the source of the coronavirus was a wet market in Wuhan has been “completely disproved,” and he stressed that China could provide evidence that would help identify its origins, including blood samples from it. ‘Wuhan lab employees, the original source strains and the first samples of the virus that could be sequenced.
“If we assess that there is a likelihood or a possibility that it is coming from a lab, it is going to affect how we respond to it,” he said. “We’re going to have to focus on finding better controls in this type of high-risk research in the future and getting better controls on these BSL-4s, these high-security labs that do this research. “
Gottlieb said lab leaks are not uncommon and “incidents” have occurred even in the United States. But he said it was important to understand the possibility that the coronavirus had come out of a laboratory so that international attention could be increased on such facilities, including from intelligence services.
“We also need to look at public health through the lens of national security,” he said. “It was asymmetric prejudice for the United States. COVID has done much more harm in the United States than in many other countries. “
The pandemic effectively brought the U.S. economy to a halt last year, with states ordering residents to stay in their homes and businesses shutting down to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. More than 594,000 people have died in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Gottlieb said knowledge of the origins of COVID-19 may not have affected the United States’ response to the pandemic and predicted that further investigation would likely lead to probability, not certainty, of how the virus appeared.
“We can never really determine with precision whether or not this came out of a lab,” he said. “I think we’re probably going to end up with an assessment, a probability, unless we’re very lucky and we find either the intermediate host, we find a colony of civets or pangolins where it’s epidemic and that could have spilled over onto humans, or we’ve got a whistleblower in China or regime change, which we’re not going to have. I don’t know if we’re going to find out for sure that this came out of a lab. ”