Most Americans now accept the theory that COVID leaked from a lab in Wuhan, a new poll found Friday, illustrating a dramatic shift in opinion from when the idea was dismissed as a fringe conspiracy theory.
The survey found 52% of people believe the virus leaked from a lab, including 59% of Republicans and 52% of Democrats, compared to 28% of respondents who said it was from an infected animal.
The Politico-Harvard study shows that what was once covered by liberal media as a far-right fake news story is now broadly accepted on a bipartisan basis. By contrast, in March 2020 just 29% of Americans accepted the lab leak theory.
The survey found 52% of people believe the virus leaked from a lab, which is commonly identified as the Wuhan Institute of Virology (pictured)
The absence of a large bipartisan split is particularly notable, according to poll designer Bob Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
‘Usually, our polls find a big split between Republicans and Democrats, so this is unique,’ he said.
‘More conservative media have been carrying the ”lab leak” issue, and it’s been a Trump talking point from the beginning, so we expected people who lean Democratic would say either ”It’s not true” or ”I don’t know.” But the belief is bipartisan.’
The lab leak concept was widely ridiculed by Democrats, with VP Kamala Harris even going so far as to say in June 2020 that Trump’s endorsement of it represented, ‘racist and xenophobic rhetoric against Asian Americans and Asian immigrants directly puts their lives at risk.’
Blendon said Democrats were likely to have become more receptive to the idea after President Joe Biden ordered the US intelligence services to investigate it.
Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, has flip-flopped on the issue, but recently said it was worth looking into.
‘We always said keep an open mind and continue to look,’ he told CBS News.
Whether or not they believe the lab leak theory, Americans are united about the need to investigate COVID’s origins, with almost two-thirds of Republicans and Democrats calling the issue ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important.
The Politico-Harvard survey shows that what was once covered by liberal media as a far-right fake news story is now broadly accepted on a bipartisan basis
Fauci flip-flops on origins of COVID
April 2020: Fauci repeatedly made public statements suggesting COVID was the result of an ‘unusual human-animal interface’ in a Chinese ‘wet market’ and that ‘the mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.’
May 2020: Still adamant that he didn’t believe COVID was man-made, Fauci told National Geographic: ‘If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.
‘Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.’
Late May 2021 to early June 2021: During an event called ‘United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking,’ Fauci was asked if was ‘still confident’ that the virus evolved naturally.
‘No, actually… I am not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened.
‘Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out.’
‘So, you know, that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.’
The poll surveyed 1,009 adults from June 22 to 27. Former CDC director Dr Robert Redfield backed the lab leak theory last month, saying he thinks COVID was ‘taught and educated’ by scientists before emerging into the wider world.
Redfield implied he believed the virus had been modified before leaking from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China because it is not ‘biologically plausible’ that it could have become so infectious had it jumped from an animal host to humans.
In a wide-ranging interview with Fox News contributor Dr Marc Siegel on June 15, Redfield doubled down on his belief that COVID was leaked from the Chinese lab after being tweaked by scientists.
The virus is believed to have originated in bats, but debate is currently raging over whether it leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology – and whether it was modified by Chinese scientists to become more contagious beforehand.
Redfield also said Dr Anthony Fauci was ‘holding on tightly’ to the theory that the virus evolved naturally, before likening the White House COVID tsar to a ‘dog with a bone.’
And he slammed the ‘highly compromised’ World Health Organization for not cracking down on China at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for letting its communist government dictate the terms of the WHO probe into the origins of COVID.
Redfield, who was CDC director under the Trump administration, first revealed back in March that he believes the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab.
Evidence has been mounting that supports the lab leak theory and President Biden has ordered a 90-day intelligence review to investigate the possibility. Donald Trump and his supporters were widely derided for sharing the same theory last year when he was president.
Redfield, who doesn’t believe the virus was intentionally leaked by China, said COVID-19’s ability to spread rapidly from human-to-human was unlike other coronaviruses such as SARS.
He said he didn’t believe it was ‘biologically plausible’ that COVID-19 could have spread from a bat to an unknown animal and then to human.
Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, has flip-flopped on the issue, but recently said it was worth looking into
Did Covid leak from a Wuhan lab? The evidence for an against
Evidence for Wuhan lab-leak theory
An article in the respected Science journal on May 14 kick-started the recent surge in interest for the lab-leak theory.
Some 18 experts wrote in the journal that ‘we must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data’.
Later that month, a study by British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sørensen claimed it had ‘prima facie evidence of retro-engineering in China’ for a year.
The study included accusations of ‘deliberate destruction, concealment or contamination of data’ at Chinese labs.
It followed statements from the WHO Director General, US and EU that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve.
Previously, the theory had been dismissed as conspiracy by most experts, partly because of its association with President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden in May ordered a full investigation into the origin of the pandemic virus and demanded scientists work out whether there is truth to the theory.
The head of the World Health Organization insisted just a day earlier that the theory that Covid emerged from a Wuhan lab has not been ruled out — as he said China should help solve the mystery out of ‘respect’ for the dead.
The body’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that Beijing had not cooperated fully as he urged more ‘transparency’ in the continuing investigation.
Evidence against the theory
Several other sects of the scientific community continue to suggest the virus could only be natural in origin.
A series of recent papers pointed to the virus evolving in animals before being transmitted to humans, in the same way as all other previously discovered coronaviruses.
The first study, published in Scientific Reports, showed some 47,000 wild animals from 38 species were sold across four markets in Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019.
The authors, including Dr Chris Newman, an evolutionary ecologist at Oxford University, claimed the evidence showed the conditions for animal-to-human transmission were in place in Wuhan.
But they acknowledged there was no proof Sars-CoV-2 was present or originated in any of these animals.
A joint World Health Organization-China investigation also concluded it was ‘very likely’ the virus jumped from bats to humans via an as-yet-unknown intermediary animal.
Redfield pointed to how other coronaviruses spread to humans from animals but that it occurred at a much slower pace than COVID-19.
‘When I said before that I didn’t think it was biologically plausible that COVID-19 went from a bat to some unknown animal into man and now had become one of the most infectious viruses. That’s not consistent with how other coronaviruses have come into the human species,’ Redfield said.
‘It does suggest that there’s an alternative hypothesis that it went from a bat virus, got into a laboratory, where in the laboratory it was taught, educated, it evolved, so that it became a virus that could efficiently transmit human to human.
‘My professional opinion as a virologist… that’s the hypothesis I support.
‘Other individuals, Tony Fauci for example, would prefer to support that it evolved from nature. I think Tony is holding onto this hypotheses tightly. Why would that be? Sometimes scientists bite into a bone on a hypothesis. It’s hard for them to move on.’
Redfield said he was ‘disappointed’ there was a lack of openness within the scientific community early on to investigate both hypotheses.
Some scientists, the media and academics long heaped scorn on the lab leak hypothesis, insisting that it was a fringe conspiracy theory and even racist after Donald Trump embraced the idea.
New evidence, including reports of three workers at the Wuhan lab who fell seriously ill with COVID-like symptoms in November 2019, has forced a sober reassessment among doubters.
Redfield went on to say that it was a ‘critical error’ to treat COVID-19 the same as SARS in January and February last year.
‘By calling it SARS-like, we mounted a public health response that was mirrored off SARS. The problem is, COVID is nothing like SARS,’ Redfield said, adding that response was ‘flawed’.
Redfield acknowledged that he should have pushed harder for the CDC to be allowed into the Wuhan lab when the virus first emerged and said the World Health Organization was compromised by China.
‘I think they were highly compromised. Clearly they were incapable of compelling China to adhere to the treaty agreements they have on global health,’ Redfield said.
According to Siegel, the Fox contributor who interviewed Redfield, the ex-CDC director told him he started suspecting the lab leak in January 2020 but the White House COVID task force was focused on what was happening in the United States.
Redfield’s comments come just weeks after Fauci dismissed revelations he was warned at the start of pandemic that COVID-19 may have been ‘engineered’ after a trove of his emails – 3,200 in total – were made public.
Fauci seemed to play down a mass trove of damaging emails that included warnings from the start of the pandemic that the virus originated in the lab.
He said his emails are ‘ripe to be taken out of context’ but he ‘can’t guarantee everything that is going on in the Wuhan lab’.
The emails were sent between January and June of last year.
They showed leading virus experts had warned him COVID-19 may have been created in a lab while he publicly played such claims down.
Donald Trump was one of the earliest proponents of the lab leak theory, leading to claims of racism