Story at a glance

  • Speaking in a CNN interview, Robert Redfield believes COVID-19 originated from a lab in Wuhan, possibly the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
  • He cited the high level of transmissibility seen in the virus, which usually takes longer to develop.

Former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert Redfield, who was at the helm of the government agency at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019, spoke on CNN during the network’s upcoming retrospective on how the pandemic unfolded.

Talking to Sanjay Gupta, Redfield opined on where he thinks the virus originated from. 

His best guess? A laboratory.

“I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory,” he said. 


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He noted that it is not unusual for respiratory viruses and pathogens to escape from laboratories during experimentation, likely by infecting a scientist.

The prevailing theory surrounding the origins of COVID-19 suggests that it stemmed from a wet foods market, where live animals and their meats are sold, potentially exposing humans to a myriad of viruses transmitted from animals.

Redfield’s theory that the virus originated from a lab is bolstered by the fact that Wuhan — the COVID-19 epicenter — is home to the eponymous Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has reportedly experimented with bat coronaviruses in the past.

“Normally when a pathogen goes from a zoonose to human, it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient in human to human transmission,” he explained. “I just don’t think this makes biological sense.”

Just as widely as this theory has been circulated, multiple entities have pushed back against it, including the World Health Organization and Chinese officials. 

Redfield emphasizes as well that this is simply his opinion as a private citizen and virologist.

His colleague, infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, recently responded to the comments on Friday at the White House. He said that “there are a number of theories,” and that there are still “other alternatives.”

Fauci also added that the virus was also likely to have spread weeks or months prior to detection, giving it time to adapt and spread between humans more efficiently.


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Published on Mar 26, 2021