Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday that three researchers from the lab were seeking hospital care with a Covid-like disease in November 2019.
“People a year ago who said this was likely from nature, it’s really unlikely it was from a laboratory. Maybe that kind of statement made a lot of sense a year ago because that was the more likely scenario,” said Gottlieb, a former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said on “Squawk Box”. “But we haven’t found the true source of this virus.”
Scientists still haven’t found definitive evidence that the virus came from an animal, he said. Using other coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, researchers were able to identify the animal that gave rise to these diseases at the time of these outbreaks.
“It is not for lack of experimentation; there was an exhaustive search,” said Gottlieb.
A previously unpublished US intelligence report found that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were seeking treatment in hospital after an illness, “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illnesses,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday and quoted from the report.
Gottlieb said the growing number of reports provides an increasing body of evidence to support the theory that the virus may have escaped from a laboratory.
“The question for a lot of people will be when too many coincidences are too many, when there are too many things that suggest this could have come from a laboratory,” he said.
Gottlieb said it was unlikely that we would ever know for sure. Unless there is a whistleblower or regime change in China, evidence to support the laboratory leak hypothesis is unlikely to emerge.
The World Health Organization has said repeatedly that the virus most likely came from an animal host.
But last week, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, admitted that as “a possibility” it could have come from a laboratory.
However, most coronaviruses “are generally of animal origin,” Walensky said on the Senate testimony after saying she hadn’t seen enough data to give her opinion on how the current pandemic was created.
Global health officials will meet shortly to further investigate the origins of the virus.