Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday called on China to release the medical records of three workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who became sick right before the coronavirus swept through the central Chinese metropolis.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Dr. Fauci said the records could shed light on the origins of the coronavirus amid increasing belief it might have escaped from the Chinese lab known for studying viruses from bats.
“I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019,” Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Financial Times. “Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with?”
U.S. intelligence reports say the lab workers contracted an illness consistent with COVID-19 symptoms in November 2019, or about a month before the first disclosed case in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Dr. Fauci also said China should hand over records tied to six miners who got viral pneumonia in a bat cave in the Yunnan Province in 2012.
A new, extensive story in Vanity Fair says the Wuhan lab collected samples from the cave after the incident.
The lab’s top scientist, Shi Zhengli, and colleagues published a paper in 2020 saying the new coronavirus is 96.2% identical to a virus sequence collected from Yunnan Province and known as RaTG13, fueling speculation of a link as investigators explore the possibility of a mistake at the virology center.
“What do the medical records of those people say? Was there [a] virus in those people? What was it? It is entirely conceivable that the origins of SARS-CoV-2 was in that cave and either started spreading naturally or went through the lab,” Dr. Fauci told FT, using the formal name for the coronavirus that caused the pandemic and has killed nearly 600,000 people in the U.S.
Dr. Fauci is under pressure to weigh in on the virus’s origins. A highly visible presence during the pandemic, he said he still believes the virus has a natural origin but has increasingly spoken in support of a deeper probe into whether the lab-leak theory is credible.
Congressional Republicans also want him to detail whether a National Institutes of Health grant to the EcoHealth Alliance, which disbursed funds to the Wuhan lab, was involved in research on the coronavirus or “gain-of-function” research that can make pathogens more transmissible.
NIH officials say they do not believe any U.S. funding went to gain-of-function work in Wuhan. They say it was vital, however, to engage with Chinese scientists because it is home to reservoirs of bat-related viruses that sparked the 2002 SARS outbreak and could pose a future human threat.
“Are you really saying that we are implicated [in the pandemic] because we gave a multibillion-dollar institution $120,000 a year for bat surveillance?” Dr. Fauci asked FT.