Researchers have still not been able to identify the original source of the COVID-19 coronavirus. When the outbreak began, initial reports suggested that the virus jumped from an animal to a human in a Wuhan meat market because many of the first cases were connected with the market in some way.
Scientists are still divided on this theory, but some studies have suggested that there were a significant number of early patients who had no contact with the market, and that it could have been spreading silently among citizens of Wuhan before it entered the crowded market where it had an opportunity to infect more hosts and spread more widely. This is one of the numerous different theories that experts have been debating in the months since the virus was officially recognized.
Kristian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist at the Scripps Research Institute, believes that this theory is “entirely plausible,” and has estimated that the virus could have infected its first victim as far back as October 1st, based on a study of 27 genomes from early patients. Although news of the virus did not reach the local or international media until early January, rumors of a SARS-like illness were spreading on social media, and among medical professionals, all through the month of December.
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 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, but according to lab workers, both facilities were experimenting with dangerous pathogens, including mutated coronaviruses in bats.
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.
Research for SARS, which is very similar to the new coronavirus, only requires a BSL-3 lab to comply with international standards, so studies on this type of virus could have been taking place at either one of the city’s labs, and there is also significant evidence that the Chinese government could be ignoring many of these standards.
The paper also notes that the WCDC facility is adjacent to Union Hospital, where the first group of doctors were infected during the outbreak, which led the researchers 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.
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.” However, many, if not most, of these lab experiments were done on animals, some of which were on bats that are not native to Wuhan, so just because this virus originated in an animal, does not mean that the “patient zero” animal did not come from a lab.
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!
NTD also translated the responses from some of her critics, including one lengthy reply from Wu Xiaohua, a WeChat user who holds a Ph.D. in biology. Wu wrote that:
Many scientists, including Shi herself, believe that this virus must have originated from bats, and would involve one or two virus hosts to explain the gene mutations. Based on current scientific publications, the virus must jump from rats to primates before it can infect humans. Then how is this step—from rats to primates—usually achieved? It can only be done in a research lab by scientists inserting a certain protein from primates into rats. I have personally performed the same type of genetic engineering experiments. You cannot get away by being cavalier. Do you dare to accept the challenge and give us an explanation?
Wu went on to reference cases where some researchers in these labs kept the laboratory dogs as pets, while others cut up the laboratory pigs and took the meat home to eat. Wu also suggested that lab workers have been caught making a lot of money selling lab animals to markets.
It is estimated that Chinese laboratories use between 12 and 13 million animals for research every year, and exports 40,000 laboratory primates annually.
Article source: Truth Theory
John Vibes is an author and journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture, and focuses solutions-oriented approaches to social problems. He is also a host of The Free Your Mind Conference and The Free Thought Project Podcast. Read More stories by John Vibes