Despite the U.S. Energy Department's recent conclusion that COVID-19 likely leaked from a Chinese lab, the nation's top infectious disease expert thinks we may never know where the virus originated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former White House chief medical adviser and recently retired director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to discuss the possible origins of COVID-19.
When asked if he thought Covid was a lab leak or a natural spread, Dr. Fauci could not give a sure answer.
"We don't know the definitive answer to that," said Fauci. "Obviously, there are two possibilities that are being entertained, and I think we need to keep a completely open mind until we have definitive proof."
"However, having said that, if you look at the information, because something might be possible, one or the other, that does not mean one is more probable than the other," he added.
The Department of Energy, which was previously undecided on a cause, now aligns with the FBI, which has "moderate confidence" that a laboratory leak in China most likely caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, four other agencies and the National Intelligence Council think the virus originated through natural transmission from an infected animal.
While Fauci referenced sources that show many outbreaks tend to spread from animal to human, he said it was still impossible to give a final answer.
"If you look historically, as well as information that has recently been published by a considerably large group of highly respected international evolutionary virologists, although it isn't definitive... when you look at epidemiological, virological and geospatial information from Wuhan, they feel and have published this, that it is more likely -- not definitive -- but more likely that it is a natural occurrence from an animal reservoir to a human," he said.
"Having said that, since it isn't definitive, all of us must keep a completely open mind that it could be one or the other," Fauci added.
Rather than arguing about the origins, Fauci said officials should be doing whatever they can to prevent either option from happening again.
"If it's a lab leak, make the labs much more safe, get good regulations about what you can do so that in the future, the possibility of this is diminished. If it is a natural evolution from an animal reservoir, take a really good look at the animal human interface and the fact that animals from the wild are being brought into wet markets which exposes them to the human population," he said. "We can right now, even without knowing definitively what the origin is, we can work on both of those possibilities."
The National Intelligence Council has said it would be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless new information allows them to "determine the specific pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged." The intelligence community has blamed a lack of cooperation from Beijing from getting to the bottom of the question.
"We've got to be able to do surveillance in China, we've got to look at the animals there... and we've got to take a look at what's going on in the laboratory there," Fauci said. "If we don't have cooperation, we're not going to get the answer.
The Chinese government has continuously denied that COVID-19 could have come from one of its labs in Wuhan.
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