In recent weeks, lawmakers and political advisors in the UK, Australia, and the United States have softly floated the theory that the novel coronavirus did not come from a wet market in China after all. Noting tracking studies in the early days of the spread that show us that some of the first people infected never went near the seafood stand supposedly at the center of the pandemic, they argue that it is much more likely that the disease originated in another Wuhan source: The Institute of Virology only a few short miles away.
Public health officials and scientists have, through study of the virus’s DNA, ruled out the theory that COVID-19 was created in a laboratory. They say that its genetic markers are consistent with a coronavirus that crossed from animals to humans in a natural process. But even if this disease did not originate in a lab, that doesn’t rule out the possibility that it escaped from one. And since the Wuhan Institute of Virology studies animal coronaviruses right there at ground zero, it only makes sense to view the official “wet market” theory with some skepticism.
Further reason for that skepticism came this week when Josh Rogin of the Washington Post noted that U.S. embassy officials visited the Institute of Virology back in 2018 before sending back a stark warning to Washington: This lab was not fit to do research in a controlled environment.
“What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic,” wrote Rogin.
In their missive to Washington, the officials said that Wuhan’s lab “has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”
To quickly recap:
— There is no solid evidence linking the coronavirus pandemic to that seafood market in Wuhan.
— There is a lab in Wuhan that studies these very viruses.
— This lab was marked as woefully understaffed and underprepared by U.S. officials in 2018.
— China is clamping down on any research into the coronavirus’s origin.
— China has everything to lose if this pandemic is traced to a lab leak.
Is this enough information to say definitively that this virus came from improper security at the Wuhan Institute of Virology? Of course not. But if you’re using common sense and a thinking brain, this is beginning to look like a far more solid theory than the original “wet market” one that we’ve been working with.