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Former CDC director says he believes COVID-19 originated in Wuhan lab

The former Trump administration official said in an interview that he believes that the virus began being transmitted in September or October 2019.

WASHINGTON — Former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield on Friday told CNN that he believes the coronavirus "escaped" from a lab in Wuhan, China, but other health officials like the World Health Organization and infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci disagree.

The former official told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he also believes that the virus began being transmitted in September or October 2019, without giving any evidence to support his theory. Redfield currently serves as a senior adviser to Maryland's Governor Larry Hogan.

“That’s my own view. It’s only an opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now,” said Redfield, who served as the CDC director from 2018 until former President Donald Trump left office. 

He continued to explain his opinion about how COVID-19 originated, "I’m of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory — escaped. Other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out.”

He added: "I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human. And at that moment in time, the virus came to the human, became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human to human transmission."

Credit: AP
Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testifies during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the plan to research, manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine, known as Operation Warp Speed, Thursday, July 2, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday addressed Redfield's comments during a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing. He noted that if the virus had escaped from a lab, it would mean "that it essentially entered the outside human population already well adapted to humans."

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"However, the alternative explanation, which most public health individuals go by, is that this virus was actually circulating in China, likely in Wuhan, for a month or more before they were clinically recognized at the end of December of 2019," Fauci said. 

He continued: "If that were the case, the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time up to and at the time it was recognized."

Fauci highlighted how there were different theories, and that Redfield was giving his opinion on the possibility of the virus' origin.

Redfield's remarks come almost two months after WHO experts concluded that it was unlikely that the virus leaked from a lab. The WHO team is expected to release a report in the near future about its findings on the origin of the coronavirus, however, the U.S. and others have raised questions about Chinese influence and the independence of the findings. China has accused critics of politicizing a scientific study.

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At a press briefing later Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Health Organization expert who led the agency's China mission said the nearly 400-page report was finalized and in the process of being fact-checked and translated.

“I expect that in the next few days, that whole process will be completed and we will be able to release it publicly,” WHO expert Peter Ben Embarek said.

At a Biden administration health briefing Friday, U.S. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency was looking forward to the release of the WHO report.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The United States has more than 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.