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Thursday, April 16, 2020
US Investigating Wuhan Lab Connection To COVID Pandemic
Fox News is reporting that sources in the US government say that there is “increasing confidence” that COVID-19 originated in China’s biological research laboratory in Wuhan, which was ground zero for the Coronavirus pandemic. The report, which is attributed to unnamed “multiple sources who have been briefed on the details” and who have “seen relevant materials” says that the virus was not a bioweapon but an attempt to showcase Chinese virological research efforts that went awry.
The report said that Fox News had requested to see the evidence but so far had not been provided access. The sources cautioned that the evidence, which included both open source and classified documents, was “not definitive and should not be characterized as such.” Fox noted that some in the intelligence and epidemiological communities remain skeptical of the claim.
The theory presented by the sources is that researchers at the Wuhan lab were attempting to demonstrate that China was as competent as the US in identifying and fighting viruses. The sources believe that the virus occurred naturally and that a researcher in the lab became patient zero. The virus then started spreading from human to human in the outside community after the researcher left the lab.
There is documentary evidence of efforts by the Chinese government to deflect blame from the lab to Wuhan’s wet market, which is only a short distance away. The earliest known case of COVID-19 was a shrimp vendor at the wet market.
Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported on leaked State Department messages that warned about safety and managerial issues at the Wuhan lab. Specifically, the messages warned about the potential for human transmission of bat coronaviruses being studied and the shortage of adequately trained technicians at the facility.
Whether the virus escaped from the lab or not, there is broad agreement that China was slow to share information about the virus in the early days of the outbreak. The Associated Press reported that China contained the information for six days from January 14 to 20. The delay allowed the virus to spread internationally as people traveled for Lunar New Year celebrations.
“This is tremendous,” said Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.”
The Fox News sources say that China “100 percent” engaged in a coverup that included destroying samples, scrubbing contaminated areas, erasing early reports and articles, and even making doctors and journalists disappear.
One of the sources called it the “costliest government cover-up of all time.”
Even though it is possible that the outbreak originated at the lab, there is no evidence that it was manmade or that the release was intentional. Two epidemiologists explained to the Washington Post this week why they did not believe that the virus was the product of bioengineering.
“Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus,” said Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University.
Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane agreed that COVID-19 does not appear to have been created by humans, saying, “It has too many distinct features, some of which are counterintuitive.”
A month ago, I wrote that there was no evidence that the Coronavirus was a Chinese biological weapon. That statement remains true. There is circumstantial evidence that a natural virus being studied could have escaped the lab and started the pandemic, but, as Fox’s sources acknowledge, that evidence is “not definitive.” It’s possible that the world will never know for sure exactly how the pandemic began, but investigators will have more time to spend on the outbreak’s origins after the immediate threat is contained.
“Most people believe it began naturally — it was organic if you will,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Fox’s America’s Newsroom. “I think in due course, once we get through the pandemic we’re in right now, there’ll be time to look back and really ascertain what happened and make sure we have a better understanding so we can prevent this in the future.”
Regardless of whether the pandemic originated in a Chinese lab or not, obfuscations by China did allow the virus to spread around the world and cost thousands of lives. China should be held accountable for these actions. However, like tracing the origins of the outbreak, there will be time to do that when COVID-19 is defeated.