CORRECTION: In the first publishing of this article we were not clear enough in stating that this theory has been largely rejected by the global scientific community. A study in the Lancet concluded that this pathogen originated in an animal.
For some reason, which is still not entirely clear, the Chinese government did its best to prevent news of the outbreak from reaching the public, and even went so far as to silence some of the medical workers who tried to warn the world about the virus after treating the first patients. Some journalists have also been arrested for making reports about the virus that the government did not approve of. The Chinese government’s behavior, and its response in the early days of the outbreak, has raised suspicions among many people both in China and abroad.
There are a few journalists, politicians and even some scientists who believe that the coronavirus could have originated in a bio lab in Wuhan. A paper published and later deleted by Chinese scientists Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao, said that the virus “probably” originated from one of two labs in Wuhan.
“We noted two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus in Wuhan, one of which was only 280 meters from the seafood market. We briefly examined the histories of the laboratories and proposed that the coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory,” the paper said.
Although the report was deleted, it did give some insight into actual security problems that the labs in Wuhan had previously experienced. The report highlights the cases of workers who were quarantined or infected after accidents in the lab, including one researcher who isolated himself for two weeks after blood from a diseased bat got on his skin, according to the Latin Times. The same worker was reportedly quarantined on another occasion after a bat urinated on him.
The two labs discussed in the report are the Wuhan Center for Disease Control (WHCDC), which is located less than 300 meters away from the market at the center of the outbreak, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is about 20 miles away. Due to the secrecy surrounding these sites, the level of cooperation between the two facilities is unclear.
Suspicions surround the WHCDC lab because it is extremely close to the epicenter and had routine security breaches. Meanwhile, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, despite being a bit further away, is considered a biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) facility, which is the highest level of biocontainment, tasked with handling the most dangerous pathogens in the world, and has been extremely controversial since it opened in 2017.
In BSL-4 labs, researchers can tweak or combine deadly viruses to create mutated strains of the original illness. A 2013 report in Nature indicated that scientists in China were creating hybrid viruses in labs.
“A team of scientists in China has created hybrid viruses by mixing genes from H5N1 and the H1N1 strain behind the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and showed that some of the hybrids can spread through the air between guinea pigs,” the article revealed.
The results of the hybrid virus experiment were published in the journal Science. Such experiments are usually intended to teach scientists more about certain illnesses so they can be treated and prevented better, but other research has involved intentionally making viruses even more deadly than they already were.
The theories also notes that the WCDC facility is adjacent to Union Hospital, where the first group of doctors were infected during the outbreak, which led some people to speculate that the virus could have entered the population through the hospital, but they cautioned that it was too early to tell for sure, and said that more research is needed before making any solid conclusions.
This type of accident is not unheard of, they actually happen often in China, the United States, and wherever these labs operate, as detailed in a report last year by Vox.
In December of 2019, an article in Nature reported that more than 100 students and staff became infected with a different pathogen, known as bacterium Brucella, at two different Chinese agriculture research institutions in another Province. On December 7th, The Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute in central China confirmed that 96 staff members and students have tested positive for the infection. Then days later, over a dozen workers at a nearby research lab were also infected with the pathogen. These cases are still being investigated.
According to the Scientist, the SARS virus has escaped from high-level CDC containment facilities in Beijing multiple times. These strange coincidences caught the attention of US Senator Tom Cotton, who has been outspoken about his beliefs that the virus could have originated from one of these labs.
#CoronaVirus "The Lancet published a study demonstrating that of the original 40 cases, 14 of them had no contact with the seafood market, including Patient Zero…" Tom Cotton US Senator.
— FAISAL AZIZ (@Faisal0343Aziz) February 1, 2020
Cotton’s remarks were met with harsh dismissals from legacy media organizations like the New York Times and The Washington Post, but other experts have also come out in support of the lab-leak theory, including Francis Boyle, who drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.
One of the reasons that Boyle helped to develop the bioweapons legislation was to stop the type of research that is happening at these high-level labs. Throughout his career, Boyle served on the board of directors for Amnesty International, and was involved at a high level in other human rights organizations. He is also a long-time anti-war activist, who has advocated for restrictions on nuclear weapons. As you may expect, his opinions are extremely controversial as well.
A statement issued by a group of international scientists last week attempted to dispel these theories by pointing to analysis which showed that the coronavirus most likely “originated in wildlife.” Other studies since have reportedly confirmed these findings.
In a recent notice from the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry Director Wu Yuanbin called for tighter security measures at biological facilities that handled pathogens, leading some to speculate that the new call for security is in response to a recent leak.
According to the South Korean news broadcaster NTD, one of the lead researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was vicious with critics on her WeChat account on February 2nd, where she posted:
“I pledge with my life that the 2019 novel coronavirus has nothing to do with our lab. This virus is a punishment imposed on mankind from nature, to condemn mankind’s uncivilized way of living. Those of you who believe rumors or so-called scientific analysis by unqualified researchers, I advise you to shut your damn mouths!”
It is estimated that Chinese laboratories use between 12 and 13 million animals for research every year, and exports 40,000 laboratory primates annually.
“Some laboratory animals were sold to markets as wild-caught animals for profit,” Wu Xiaohua said.
Wu and other Chinese netizens suspect that the #coronavirus is genetically engineered and somehow escaped from Wuhan's P4 Biosafety lab.
— NTD News (@news_ntd) February 20, 2020