Just last year the organization Fauci heads — the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases — “funded scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other institutions for work on gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses,” Newsweek reported.
The news magazine added:
In 2019, with the backing of NIAID, the National Institutes of Health committed $3.7 million over six years for research that included some gain-of-function work. The program followed another $3.7 million, 5-year project for collecting and studying bat coronaviruses, which ended in 2019, bringing the total to $7.4 million.
Many scientists have criticized gain of function research, which involves manipulating viruses in the lab to explore their potential for infecting humans, because it creates a risk of starting a pandemic from accidental release.
SARS-CoV-2, which is the official name of the virus now sweeping the globe and killing tens of thousands of Americans, is thought to have originated in bats. In fact, after first claiming that the coronavirus had naturally evolved, U.S. intelligence officials now think that COVID-19 stemmed from an accidental leak at the lab in Wuhan city.
At the same time, U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that neither the Pentagon nor U.S. intelligence agencies believe the virus was manufactured because its genome sequence does not indicate that.
“There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, blog sites, etc.,” Milley said last month. “It should be no surprise to you that we have taken a keen interest in that, and we have had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was the first congressman to publicly suggest that the virus could have originated in a Chinese lab, though he was widely panned for it back in February.
“We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that,” he said in mid-April during an interview with Fox News. “We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.”
As for Fauci, he did not respond to a request for comment from Newsweek. However, a statement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) noted, in part: “Most emerging human viruses come from wildlife, and these represent a significant threat to public health and biosecurity in the US and globally, as demonstrated by the SARS epidemic of 2002-03, and the current COVID-19 pandemic.... scientific research indicates that there is no evidence that suggests the virus was created in a laboratory.” (Related: Nearly half of severe coronavirus cases involve neurological complications.)
The NIH’s research into coronavirus consisted of two parts, Newsweek noted. The first portion began in 2014 and involved surveillance of bat coronaviruses with a budget of $3.7 million.
That program funded Shi Zheng-Li, a Wuhan lab virologist, as well as other researchers who were investigating and cataloguing bat coronaviruses in the wild.
This portion of the project was completed last year, the news magazine said.
“A second phase of the project, beginning that year, included additional surveillance work but also gain-of-function research for the purpose of understanding how bat coronaviruses could mutate to attack humans,” Newsweek said.
Roughly 10 years ago during a controversial gain-of-function research project on bird-flu viruses, Fauci promoted the work, arguing that the research was worth a risk because it involved scientists making preparations that could be helpful during a pandemic.