CDC chief says lab-based origin of Covid is ‘one possibility,’ but animal host is most common

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky testified during a Senate Funds Subcommittee hearing to consider fiscal 2022 budget application for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 19, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Jim Lo Scalzo | AFP | Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, didn’t rule out the possibility of Covid-19 coming from a laboratory on Wednesday, saying it was “certainly” “a possibility”.

However, most coronaviruses “are generally of animal origin,” Walensky said on the Senate testimony after finding that she had not seen enough data to give her opinion on how the current pandemic was created.

The statements by the Biden government’s chief health official came amid growing calls to investigate whether the virus was zoonotic, animal, or from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

The World Health Organization said in a report in March that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus was transmitted to humans through an accidental laboratory leak. However, this conclusion has been heavily criticized, and other scientists have since called for further investigation.

“Theories about accidental release from a laboratory and about zoonotic overflows are still viable,” said a letter from 18 scientists published last week in Science. Other scholars have criticized this letter for drawing the wrong equivalence between the likelihood of a laboratory leak and a natural-origin scenario, the New York Times reported.

The CDC website currently states that while the exact source of the outbreak is unknown, “we do know that it originally came from an animal, likely a bat”.

Covid-19 was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei Province.

The emergence of the virus has also become a hotly debated topic in American politics.

At Wednesday’s hearing on the CDC’s budget for the next fiscal year beginning October 1, Senator John Kennedy, R-La., Asked Walensky for her opinion on where the pandemic began.

“I don’t think I’ve seen enough data, individual data, to comment on this,” said Walensky.

When asked about the possibilities, Walensky said, “Certainly the possibilities from which most of the coronaviruses known to us that have infected the population – SARS CoV-1, MERS – are generally of animal origin.”

Kennedy replied, “Are there any other options?”

“Surely a laboratory-based provenance is a possibility,” said Walensky.

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