Did COVID originate from a lab?


Fact Box

  • The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan, China. 
  • Coronaviruses are named for the “crown-like spikes on their surface” and were first identified in humans in the 1960s. 
  • According to the US Department of State, viral lab leaks have occurred in the past, ‘Accidental infections in labs have caused several previous virus outbreaks in China and elsewhere, including a 2004 SARS outbreak in Beijing that infected nine people, killing one.”
  • Yuan Zhiming, the Director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory and Researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said in an April 2020 interview conducted by Chinese broadcaster, CGTN, “there’s no way this virus came from us.”

Elliot (Yes)

While there are many who claim that it’s “just a coincidence” that COVID-19 appeared in the same area as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, these arguments wear thin when the evidence begins to stack up. 

It has been confirmed that the WIV collected samples from hundreds of bats in a period spanning between 2012 and 2015. These bats were suspected of carrying an “unknown respiratory disease” at the time, as several miners near the bat roost had been infected. A recent letter from Lawrence Tabak of the National Institutes of Health also confirms that American taxpayers were unwittingly funding research that involved the manipulation of a bat coronavirus called WIV1. This research spanned from 2018 to 2019--directly before the outbreak of COVID-19. 

The case seems pretty cut and dry. Virologists took samples from bats known to carry a respiratory disease, and then scientists at the same facility were confirmed to have manipulated a bat coronavirus. The implication is clear: coronavirus was probably created in a lab. 

Further, according to a Chinese researcher, Liang Wannian, “no food animal has been identified as a reservoir for the pandemic virus….[and] No one has found a ‘direct progenitor,’” meaning this virus did not have wild origins in animals. People like to dismiss this as “anti-science,” but Jamie Metzl, an adviser to the WHO, says that it’s possible. 

Ultimately, the media rejected the lab-leak theory primarily due to anti-Trump bias rather than objective journalism. For those who say that a lab leak could not have caused COVID-19, blind denial is weighing heavier than evidence. There is certainly plenty of proof on the other side of this argument. 

Sheryll (No)

The idea that COVID-19 resulted from a lab accident has been widely disputed, even being described by the WHO as 'extremely unlikely.' Many believe the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, an institute specializing in studying bat coronaviruses, but this theory is flawed. For one, when SARS-CoV-2 first emerged, no one at the lab had fallen sick. Shi Zhengli, the lead bat coronavirus scientist at WIV, also said all staff and students in the institute tested negative for COVID-19 and other related coronaviruses.

Secondly, COVID-19 does not exhibit any signs of manipulation or genetic engineering. If the virus was indeed intentionally manufactured in a lab, scientists are confident its structure would reveal evidence of manipulation, which has yet to be found in SARS-CoV-2. Similarly, many scientists also conclude that COVID-19 is unlikely to have originated in a lab because 'no known virus is close enough to have served as its starting material.' In a study published in Nature, researchers determined that the backbone of the virus was different from coronaviruses already known to scientists. 

Furthermore, a substantial body of scientific evidence proves COVID-19 can be traced to wet markets in Wuhan. According to WHO scientists, the theory that the virus was transmitted to domesticated animals and entered a wet market is still the most likely scenario. Experts also find that the epidemiological history of SARS-CoV-2 is comparable to previous market-associated outbreaks of viruses and that there is a clear pathway for human exposure. 

Although conspiracy theories abound about the origins of COVID-19, there isn't sufficient evidence to suggest it was man-made. 

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