WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday probed a panel of scientists on the origins of the Covid pandemic, pushing the theory that the virus most likely came from a laboratory leak at a research facility in Wuhan, China, while acknowledging that there was no definitive evidence to support how the virus originated.
Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, who was among three witnesses called by Republicans on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, reiterated his belief that the virus likely originated in the Chinese lab based on its structure and past work. It is an assertion Redfield has previously made publicly.
“Based on my initial analysis of the data, I came to believe and I still believe today that it indicates that Covid-19 more likely was a result of an accidental lab leak than the result of a natural spillover event,” Redfield told the committee. “This conclusion is based primarily on the biology of the virus itself.”
There has been renewed debate about the origins of the virus after recent reports about the assessments of various federal agencies. FBI Director Chris Wray said in a Fox News interview last month that the FBI believes that Covid probably originated from a “potential lab incident” in Wuhan but that the Chinese government has stymied its ongoing probe. The U.S. Energy Department concluded with “low confidence” that the Covid pandemic “likely” originated from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, according to a classified report delivered to key lawmakers in January on the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
President Joe Biden asked intelligence officials in 2021 to redouble efforts to uncover the origins of the virus. In a report issued later that year, at least one U.S. intelligence agency concluded that the Covid-19 virus could have emerged from a lab accident in Wuhan, but the U.S. intelligence community remains divided on the origins of the virus and the report said the agencies are unlikely to be able to provide a more definitive explanation without significant new information.
“I’d love for this thing to be from nature. I would love that, it would be better for all of us," said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who chairs the pandemic subcommittee. "But I can’t help but look at this and say there’s another possibility here."
Democrats and Republicans on the committee appeared to agree that it was important to understand how the virus originated and that further investigation is needed into the issue, though they differed on how to go about that.
“It seems like minds on the other side of the aisle are shut and made up on the origins and they have chosen their villain,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. “If we truly want to follow the evidence, the truth is that the evidence as we have it now is inconclusive."
Redfield accused top public health officials, including former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci, of suppressing debate around the origins of the virus in the early months of the pandemic and instead pushing the theory that the virus had evolved in nature, making a leap from animals to humans.
“When you have a group of people that decide there can only be one point of view, that’s problematic," Redfield said. "And I’ll keep going saying it’s antithetical to science, and unfortunately, that’s what they did."
Republicans on the committee appeared to embrace that criticism with committee members accusing Fauci of having pushed for the publication of a research paper promoting the theory that the virus developed naturally and of keeping Redfield out of key discussions because of his support for the lab leak theory.
Fauci has said he believes that the evidence shows the virus most likely originated in nature but that all theories should be investigated and he is open to the possibility of a lab leak.
Along with Redfield, the committee also heard testimony froman infectious disease researcher and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council; clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; and Nicholas Wade, the former editor of Nature and Science magazines.
Democrats on the committee looked to shift the conversations to questions around the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, highlighting comments made by then-President Donald Trump that praised China at the start of the pandemic.
The House is expected to vote on legislation this week to declassify all information relating to the origins of Covid.
With Republicans now holding the majority in the House, they are expected to continue holding hearings around the pandemic. Last month a separate committee held a hearing on the Biden administration's response to the pandemic with a focus on vaccine mandates and mask recommendations.