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Former FDA commissioner says lab leaks ‘happen all the time’ amid COVID-19 origin scrutiny

Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday that accidental lab leaks “happen all the time” amid mounting concern regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gottlieb expressed concern about safety protocols at research labs in the U.S. and abroad during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” The former commissioner said a conclusive determination on where the pandemic originated was critical to prevent deadly outbreaks in the future.

“These kinds of lab leaks happen all the time, actually,” Gottlieb said. “Even here in the United States, we’ve had mishaps, and in China, the last six known outbreaks of SARS-1 have been out of labs, including the last known outbreak, which was a pretty extensive outbreak that China initially wouldn’t disclose that it came out of a lab.”

Calls for further investigation of the pandemic’s origins have intensified in recent days. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported three researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology displayed symptoms severe enough to seek hospital treatment with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 in late 2019.

President Biden said the intelligence community has yet to determine whether the pandemic began after human contact with infected animals or because of a lab accident. Officials are expected to deliver an updated report on their conclusion within the next few months.

Biden has pledged to make any relevant findings from their investigation public.

Gottlieb called on officials to view the pandemic and lab safety as matters of national security, given the impact of COVID-19.

“It’s important to understand what the possibility is that this came out of a lab so we can focus more international attention on trying to get better inventories around these labs, what they’re doing, better security, make sure they’re properly built,” he added. “We need to also look at public health through the lens of national security. This was an asymmetric harm to the United States. COVID hurt the U.S. a lot more than it hurt many other countries.”

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