Gottlieb says origins of COVID may never be known


As officials seek to understand how the coronavirus pandemic emerged, an expert says without more information from China, the world may never have an answer.

“Either we find the intermediate host – the animal that spread COVID – or there is a whistleblower in China. Or someone close, who knows it’s coming out of a lab, showing up, missing, going abroad, or we’re intercepting a communication we shouldn’t have had access to. Without something like that, we won’t be able to answer that question, ”said Scott Gottlieb, who served as Food and Drug Administration commissioner in the Trump administration.

“This is going to be a battle of competing narratives,” Gottlieb told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan in an exclusive interview on Sunday about her upcoming book: “Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and how we can beat the next Pandemic “.

In May, President Biden ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate 90 day investigation on the origins of the virus after the agencies “merged around two probable scenarios” but failed to come to a conclusion.

Intelligence officials said that since 2020, agencies weighed the possibility that the virus appeared naturally, through human contact with an infected animal, and was the result of a laboratory accident. They ruled out early on that the virus was man-made.

The last opinion was largely inconclusive. The intelligence community “remains divided over the most likely origin of COVID-19. All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and an incident associated with the laboratory, ”the brief summary states.

In a statement, President Biden said the United States will continue to work to understand the origins of the virus, and he called on China to be more transparent about what led to its emergence there in late 2019 before it does spread quickly across the world.

“Critical information on the origins of this pandemic exists in the People‘s Republic of China, but from the start Chinese government officials have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it. “Biden said.

Gottlieb says the search for critical information was essentially quashed by the World Health Organization’s reluctance to confront China, instead of “bragging about China’s behavior and how open China was.”

“I think the WHO really believed that China was behaving appropriately and providing them with cover when they were criticized by other parts of the world. Obviously they weren’t, and I think it was known at the time [when] China did not share the source strains, ”Gottlieb said.

These virus-source strains, Gottlieb explains, are needed to develop vaccines and diagnostics.

“The WHO chief did not want to push China to publicly share the source strains because he said, well, they have no commitment to do so, and he is right,” Gottlieb said, stressing that the International Health Regulations do not. explicitly require countries to share virus samples, but “there were requirements that you had to share samples of new emerging respiratory pathogens and other parameters.”

“So clearly the spirit of the International Health Regulations was that it should be shared. But because it was not the letter of the law, the WHO did not want to push China to do it publicly, even if it would have been very useful for other nations, ”he said. .

Former President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the WHO in May 2020, saying it had bowed to pressure from China “to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered by Chinese authorities” and was under “control total “from China. President Biden sworn to join organization from his first day in office.

While Gottlieb disagreed with the decision to withdraw from the international body, he believes the Biden administration “lost an opportunity to force the WHO to behave differently by simply joining” l ‘organization.

“We should have used the re-entry to extract some sort of deal on the show, engage in a process of reform and as far as I know, as far as we all know based on what’s public, it hasn’t. been done, “he says. “The leverage effect has been abandoned. “

A WHO-led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan earlier this year concluded in its final report, written jointly with Chinese scientists, that it was “extremely unlikely” that COVID-19 would be the result of a laboratory accident. But one of the team’s investigators said the team has been denied access to raw patient data since the first phase of the outbreak in Wuhan.

Gottlieb says the circumstances and operating procedures around the Wuhan facility have created a lot of risk. “That doesn’t mean it came out of the lab, but it certainly makes it a suspicious place.”

“You brought new coronaviruses to these labs, especially the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We know they were doing this research in what’s called BSL-2 labs, low-security labs where strict precautions aren’t taken, ”Gottlieb said, adding that“ the lab was doing high-end research. with the Chinese army.

Gottlieb says determining whether the virus originated in a lab is important to how the United States tries to govern research internationally. Citing concerns raised by French scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2017 – who were ultimately expelled – Gottlieb suggests the need for an “International Atomic Energy Agency for BSL-4 laboratories” around the currently researching.

Part of the need for high-end international research oversight is the disruption of the global order of cooperation. Gottlieb says our reliance on other countries for virus outbreaks has continuously failed and insists on the need to rely more on intelligence agencies to detect future outbreaks.

“In the past, it was always assumed that the mission of public health was the mission of the CDC,” Gottlieb said. “There was data very clearly available in China, in Wuhan, that if we were looking for it, we could have detected it much sooner. We could have answered a few key questions. We could have seen the asymptomatic spread, we could have seen the human-to-human transmission. There was sequence data flying in mid-December in China, and probably earlier than that, being sent to commercial labs. ”

These signals, he argues, could only be intercepted by our clandestine services.

President Biden himself, during his first visit to the office of the director of national intelligence in July, expressed the need for the intelligence community to be able to track pathogens. “You are going to have to increase your ranks with people with significant scientific capacity in relation to pathogens,” he said at the time.

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