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Coronavirus likely escaped from a Wuhan lab, says former CDC Director Robert Redfield

The World Health Organization is expected to release a report Tuesday on the origin of COVID-19.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield (Photo by Sundry Photography/Getty Images)Former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield (Photo by Sundry Photography/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization is expected to release its report tomorrow on the origin of the coronavirus as former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield stirs the controversy that it was inadvertently leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China.

A team from WHO began investigating the origins of COVID-19 in January. Tomorrow marks the release of its long-awaited report.

However, according to a draft copy obtained by the Associated Press and published on ABC News, WHO contends that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is "extremely unlikely," according to the report. 

Speaking to CNN on Friday, Redfield, who served in the Trump administration, said it didn't make sense for human-to-human transmission to spread so quickly to become one of the "most infectious viruses in humanity" had the virus originated in a bat. 

"I don't believe this somehow came from a bat to a human," he said. Usually, it takes awhile to become more efficient in human-to-human transmission. 

"I just don't think this makes biological sense," said Redfield, a virologist.

The most likely etiology is the virus escaped from a lab, he said. It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens to infect laboratory workers. Redfield said he was not implying any intentionality to the escape of the virus.
 
The Wuhan Institute of Virology is in the city where the coronavirus was first reported in an animal market in late December 2019. But the virus likely has been around since September or October 2019, Redfield said.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, also agrees the virus was likely below the radar in China and spreading before it was reported.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the embargoed report was in the hands of U.S. government experts who are long-standing leaders in the field, including in epidemiology, public health and infectious disease.

"A lot of experts in government will be reviewing this report intensively and quickly, and we have some of our best people in government focused on reviewing it right now," she said. "We are communicating closely with our partners and allies around the world to share ongoing concerns."

The Biden administration is waiting for that review to conclude.

"Once this is reviewed," she said, "we will have an assessment of the step forward."

WHY THIS MATTERS

Over a year into the pandemic, there is no certainty on where the pandemic originated.

The toll on the world has been 2.7 million deaths and in the United States, over 549,000 deaths. 

Financially, businesses, the economy and hospitals have been adversely affected.

Knowing the virus's origins could help prevent future outbreaks.

THE LARGER TREND

China has faced accusations of a cover-up and that it has actively suppressed information that could help investigators discover the origins of the virus.

"It is clear that the Chinese government has not provided all the data needed and, until they do, firmer conclusions will be difficult," said Matthew Kavanagh, director of Global Health Policy and Politics for the O'Neill Institute. "This [WHO] report provides important insights about the likely origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, but more information will be needed."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com