Even after the demise of Donald Trump, the prospect that the coronavirus was released from a Wuhan virology lab continues to be weaponised by the Murdoch media and the alt-right against China. But that in itself doesn’t prove the story is false.
President Biden recently suggested the virus may have been accidentally transmitted to a Wuhan laboratory researcher. Then, in June, G7 leaders demanded a full and open investigation into the virus’s origins. So where does the truth lie on the Wuhan virology lab conspiracy theory?
The bare facts about the Wuhan Institute of Virology
The Wuhan Institute of Virology was carrying out research on coronaviruses at the time of the initial outbreak. That research included controversial “gain-of-function” research, in which scientists engineer viruses to study what makes them more virulent and ways to counteract them.
The laboratory also carried out a relocation, to its present site near the Wuhan wet markets, in December 2019. As Professor Allen Rodrigo of University of Auckland told The Conversation, that does raise the likelihood that an accident occurred.
Indeed, between 1982 and 2016, there were 27 cases of laboratory-acquired infection, just in the Asia-Pacific region. “The lab-leak hypothesis is at least plausible and it’s therefore important to investigate it,” said Professor Rodrigo.
This certainly does not imply that the virus was deliberately released. Rather, the virus may well have jumped from an infected test animal to a laboratory worker.
Of course, if this is the hypothesis, it hardly makes the wet market theory less plausible. Tens of thousands of animals are sold at the markets every year, including horseshoe bats, who carry a coronavirus that has a genetic similarity of 96% to SARS-CoV-2.
The bigger issue, however, is that the truth is caught between the weaponisation of the lab leak theory against China, on the one hand, and China’s pathological obsession with the control of information, on the other. Despite the WHO being often painted as a China stooge, its Director-General openly criticised China on this count.
Their investigative team, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data. I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing.”
This is really the nub of the matter.
While an accidental laboratory-originated transmission is plausible, one can only categorise it as highly unlikely that China would deliberately release a dangerous virus within its own country. At the same time, if the Politburo continues to habitually obstruct the free flow of information, the persistence of conspiracy theories is the price they’re going to have to pay.
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