Correction: A previous version of this article did not make clear enough that this theory has been largely rejected by the global scientific community. The title has been revised to reflect that fact, and the article now includes a statement from a group of public health scientists condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
A new report from this weekend stated that people should not “buy China’s story” surrounding the origins of the coronavirus from China, suggesting that details may point to the virus coming from a Chinese biological lab.
The New York Post reported that Chinese communist dictator Xi Jinping recently spoke about the need to up biosecurity at laboratories due to national security concerns. The Post speculated that a directive released by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology the following day, titled, “Instructions on strengthening biosecurity management in microbiology labs that handle advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus,” was further evidence that something may have happened at one of China’s labs. The Post reported:
And just how many “microbiology labs” are there in China that handle “advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus”?
It turns out that in all of China there is only one. And this one is located in the Chinese city of Wuhan that just happens to be . . . the epicenter of the epidemic.
That’s right. China’s only Level 4 microbiology lab that is equipped to handle deadly coronaviruses, called the National Biosafety Laboratory, is part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
What’s more, the People’s Liberation Army’s top expert in biological warfare, a Maj. Gen. Chen Wei, was dispatched to Wuhan at the end of January to help with the effort to contain the outbreak.
The Post further speculated that the coronavirus was leaked from a Chinese lab by claiming that it is a “little-known fact” that some researchers in China have been caught selling animals that they have done tests on to street vendors as a way to make extra cash. The Post continued:
And then there is this little-known fact: Some Chinese researchers are in the habit of selling their laboratory animals to street vendors after they have finished experimenting on them. …
Instead of properly disposing of infected animals by cremation, as the law requires, they sell them on the side to make a little extra cash. Or, in some cases, a lot of extra cash. One Beijing researcher, now in jail, made a million dollars selling his monkeys and rats on the live animal market, where they eventually wound up in someone’s stomach.
The last piece of supposed evidence that The Post points to is China’s initial claims about where the virus originated from. The Post concluded:
They first blamed a seafood market not far from the Institute of Virology, even though the first documented cases of Covid-19 (the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2) involved people who had never set foot there. Then they pointed to snakes, bats and even a cute little scaly anteater called a pangolin as the source of the virus.
… It turns out that snakes don’t carry coronaviruses and that bats aren’t sold at a seafood market. Neither are pangolins, for that matter, an endangered species valued for their scales as much as for their meat.
Reuters reported late last week that Chinese researchers are saying the notion that the virus came from the Wuhan lab is a conspiracy theory and that it is making it harder for them to combat the virus’ spread.
“In a statement issued on Wednesday, the state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology said ‘internet rumors’ had ‘received close attention from all walks of life’ and ’caused great harm to our research staff on the front line of scientific research,’” Reuters reported. “It said its staff had been working around the clock since the end of 2019 to trace the source of the coronavirus and improve detection rates, but the conspiracies had ‘seriously interfered’ with their efforts.”
A report produced by a group of public health scientists published by The Lancet on Feb. 19 backed Wuhan lab’s complaint against the conspiracy theory (footnotes removed):
The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens. This is further supported by a letter from the presidents of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and by the scientific communities they represent. Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.
The suggestion that the virus might have come from the Wuhan lab has been floated by top U.S. officials, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who has hammered China in recent weeks for its dishonesty over what it knows about the coronavirus.
Cotton, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee, told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo last week that “the situation is very grave, in part because, as you say, China was lying from the beginning, and they’re still lying today, and also because there are so many unknowns about this virus, for example, how many people one person can infect once they have the virus, the extent to which it’s contagious before one is symptomatic, or the mortality rate.”
“This virus didn’t originate in the Wuhan animal market,” Cotton said. “Epidemiologists who are widely respected from China who have published a study in the international journal The Lancet have demonstrated that several of the original cases didn’t have any contact with that food market.”
“The virus went into that food market before it came out of that food market. So, we don’t know where it originated,” Cotton continued. “But we do know that we have to get to the bottom of that. We also know that, just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level four super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.”
“Now, we don’t have evidence that this disease originated there, but, because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says,” Cotton added. “And China right now is not giving any evidence on that question at all.”
“China’s obviously very secretive about what happens at the Wuhan laboratory. We don’t know, again, where this virus originated. That’s why it’s so important that we at least ask the questions and get the evidence,” Cotton said. “But China continues to block our ability to ask those questions and get that evidence.”