Covid flip-flops, ‘friendship’ with top Chinese scientist — what Anthony Fauci emails reveal


A file photo of US NIAID director Anthony Fauci. | Photo: Bloomberg | Sarah Silbiger


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New Delhi: Change in views on the Wuhan laboratory leak theory, or on wearing a mask, a ‘close friendship’ with a top Chinese scientist and uneasy relationship with sudden fame — this is what US media organisations have revealed about Anthony Fauci via emails of the US government’s top infectious disease scientist.

The recently obtained emails offer a glimpse into Fauci’s dealings with the Donald Trump administration, foreign and domestic health officials, the media, celebrities and everyday Americans in the early days of Covid-19 management.

Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and has served seven US presidents.

Three organisations — Washington Post, Buzzfeed News and CNN — obtained over 3,000 pages of Fauci’s emails between January and June 2020, through Freedom of Information Act requests.

While the Post obtained 866 pages of emails, Buzzfeed accessed over 3,200 pages. 

The pages, however, are filled with redacted material. Additional portions are expected to be released in the coming months, Buzzfeed reported Monday.

The emails show how Fauci was inundated with emails from colleagues, hospital administrators, foreign governments and random strangers — nearly 1,000 messages a day. 

The emails reviewed by BuzzFeed also reveal Fauci arguing over an antiviral drug with a former Obama administration health adviser, receiving an update from Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on the platform’s plans for a coronavirus “information hub” and more.


Also read: Why the new US hunt for origin of Covid virus could come up empty again


Wuhan lab leak theory

The emails show Fauci received many messages about the theory that the novel coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China — a theory that President Joe Biden ordered a closer intelligence review of last week.

On 16 April 2020, Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health, sent a link to a Fox News report that said the lab leak theory had merit. Fauci’s response is entirely redacted.

Earlier in January 2020, the director of US’ largest biomedical research facility wrote Fauci suggesting the “unusual features” of the virus may indicate it is “engineered”. It prompted Fauci to say he will reach out through a phone call.

During a Senate hearing on the lab leak theory Monday, Fauci defended Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, saying there is no guarantee that they have lied about conducting “gain-of-function” research.

Gain of function research entails altering a virus in a way that increases pathogenesis, transmissibility, or host range.

Correspondence with China’s top health expert

In its report Monday, the Washington Post described Fauci as a “longtime friend” of George F. Gao, Director-General, Chinese Center for Disease Control and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. The Post said the emails suggested the top experts wrote to each other many times.

Apart from inquiring about his physical safety, Gao reached out to Fauci to clarify his comments in an article published by Science magazine on 27 March 2020. In the report, the top Chinese health official was quoted as saying that the US and the West were making a “big mistake” by not telling people to wear masks.

A day after the article was published, Gao wrote to Fauci, “I saw the Science interview, how could I say such a word ‘big mistake’ about others? That was journalist’s wording. Hope you understand.”

Fauci wrote back, “I understand completely. No problem… We will get through this together.”

The American scientist was in the limelight during the tenure of the previous president Donald Trump, when the virus first broke out last year, and faced threats from Trump supporters with some accusing him of hurting the president’s reelection prospects at the time.

On 8 April 2020, Gao wrote to Fauci expressing his concern. “I saw some news (hope it is fake) that [you] are being attacked by some people. Hope you are well under such a irrational situation,” wrote Gao.

“Thank you for your kind note,” Fauci replied three days later. “All is well despite some crazy people in this world.”


Also read: Trust science, not scientists, is the lesson from doubt over Wuhan wet market theory: Fukuyama


Questions about HCQ

Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a drug Trump aggressively pushed as a treatment for Covid initially, and which India ended up exporting in bulk, was also a topic of conversation in Fauci’s emails.

On 10 April 2020, House Representative Fred Upton asked Fauci whether anyone with lupus, who usually employ HCQ for treatment, had contracted Covid. Fauci replied saying “almost certainly yes” but that there was not enough data to confirm this. 

“Keep being a science truth teller,” Upton replied, to which Fauci thanked him.

Analysis of emails

The emails shed light on Fauci himself, including his response to having a cult following and negotiating terms of a documentary about his work.

On 7 April 2020, Fauci forwarded a news alert of an article titled, “‘Cuomo Crush and ‘Fauci Fever’ — Sexualization of These Men Is a Real Thing on the Internet”. 

“It will blow your mind,” Fauci wrote to someone (the name and email address are redacted). “Our society is really totally nuts.”

However, an analysis by BBC points out that Fauci backtracked on health guidance at times.

“He told someone in February 2020 they did not need to wear a mask while travelling. Later, he encouraged people to wear them,” noted the BBC report. This is likely to affirm opinions of conservatives who had accused him of ‘flip-flopping’, said the report.


Also read: Before Wuhan row, how US-China created SARS-like virus in 2015 to show its pandemic potential

 


 

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