The former head of China’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), Gao Fu (or George Gao), told the BBC in a podcast published on Tuesday that scientists should not rule out the possibility that the Wuhan coronavirus began spreading as a result of a laboratory leak.
Gao reportedly made the remark in the context of not dismissing any other potential origins for the ongoing pandemic. In his conversation with BBC, he separately claimed that the Chinese Communist Party organized some sort of investigation into the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a top-tier biological laboratory, and absolved it of any potential blame in the pandemic.
The WIV has faced years of accusations and scrutiny, as it was known to be studying the spread of bat coronaviruses at the onset of the spread of the disease in its host city. The U.S. State Department claimed in a 2021 fact sheet that intelligence sources had evidence of WIV employees falling ill in late 2019 with an unknown respiratory illness.
The Chinese Communist Party has effusively denied any link between the WIV and the pandemic and instead formally accused a U.S. Army facility in Maryland of starting the pandemic, presenting no relevant evidence for its conspiracy theory.
Gao was in charge of the CDC during the onset of the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and publicly blamed the outbreak of infectious disease in Wuhan, China, in late 2019 on “wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market” in January 2020. He resigned in 2022 after admitting publicly that Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine products “don’t have very high protection rates,” a remark he enthusiastically claimed was “misunderstood” before announcing his retirement, allegedly due to age (Gao was 60 at the time; his replacement was 58).
Pentagon Mum on WMD Grant to Wuhan Lab-Connected Firm https://t.co/IbEb21LtOA
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) May 5, 2020
Gao spoke to the BBC in his capacity as the vice president of the National Natural Science Foundation of China after retiring from the CDC last year.
“You can always suspect anything. That’s science. Don’t rule out anything,” Gao reportedly told the BBC’s Fever: The Hunt for Covid’s Origins podcast in response to the Wuhan lab leak theory. “We really don’t know where the virus came from … the question is still open.”
Gao’s comments are far more open-minded than any other Chinese official has sounded publicly to the possibility since the pandemic began.
Gao claimed that investigations into the WIV occurred – suggesting that, unlike the Chinese government’s claims, suspicions that the laboratory may have played a role in the pandemic were taken seriously in Beijing – but found no evidence of a containment breach.
“The government organized something … that lab was double-checked by the experts in the field,” Gao claimed. “I think their conclusion is that they are following all the protocols. They haven’t found [any] wrongdoing.”
Gao noted that his CDC was not involved in any such investigation. He reportedly did not offer any timeframe as to when such an investigation may have occurred.
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Gao’s remarks regarding the potential involvement of the WIV in the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus differ significantly from those of his government, which has dismissed even noting the reality that the coronavirus pandemic began in China as a “conspiracy theory.” Independent of the question of the virus’s origins, scientific consensus exists around the fact that the virus first spread on a large scale in Wuhan, the product of outrageous government policies such as arresting doctors recommending mask use and hand-washing, refusing to test individuals with respiratory disease symptoms for coronavirus, and hosting a family-style banquet for 130,000 people at the height of the virus’s spread in January 2020.
The Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom responded to the BBC podcast by asserting, “The so-called ‘lab leak’ is a lie created by anti-China forces. It is politically motivated and has no scientific basis.”
The official stance of the Chinese government is that the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic began with a lab leak at the U.S. Army facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokespeople, the coronavirus began spread in Maryland in mid-2019 but the American government hid the disease by misdiagnosing patients with lung injuries caused by e-cigarettes, or vapes. Beijing has never explained the absence of a single case of an infectious lung injury in America during that time period, but the state-run Global Times did claim in June 2021 that those infected at Fort Detrick were asymptomatic, offering no evidence for the allegation.
Contrary to the Chinese government, leaders of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) asserted, similarly to Gao, last month that it is impossible to rule out a laboratory leak at the WIV. Unlike Gao, W.H.O. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said China’s refusal to share key information regarding the disease is a major factor in which scientists cannot dismiss the theory.
“Without full access to the information that China has, you cannot say this or that – all hypotheses are on the table,” Tedros told reporters in April.
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Maria Van Kerkhove, the W.H.O.’s technical lead on the Wuhan coronavirus, similarly told reporters at the same press conference, “Further information that we need and we have been requesting for years now is where did those animals [at the Wuhan market] come? From where were they farmed? How did they enter into the market? Was this wild animals, domestic animals? How are they traded? Where do they come from?”
The W.H.O. organized sent a delegation of scientists to Wuhan in early 2021, heavily supervised by Communist Party agents and offered little space for their studies. The team briefly visited the WIV and studied samples from 80,000 animals in the area. The resulting report concluded that a laboratory leak was not the likely origin of the virus, without explanation, and instead argued that the virus originated in a local animal, which then infected a second species before reaching humans.
“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” Teodros said of his agency’s report shortly after its publication in 2021. “This requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”
“Let me say clearly that as far as W.H.O. is concerned all hypotheses remain on the table,” the W.H.O. chief emphasized.