We don’t yet know where the virus that causes COVID-19, the disease that’s killed nearly 600,000 Americans and 3.5 million globally, came from. SARS-CoV-2 may well have crossed over from a wild animal in an unsanitary wet market in or around Wuhan, China. Or it may have emerged from a lab in that city of 11 million where scientists were studying bat coronaviruses.
The latter hypothesis, angrily rejected by Beijing, has in recent months begun to gain credence. That doesn’t mean it’s likely, but it does mean it warrants further scrutiny, because a simmering theory left unexamined will burn the pot. President Joe Biden should therefore be commended for ordering from U.S. intelligence agencies what we hope will prove to be a definitive review of the evidence for and against the “lab-leak” origin story.
The debate has been fraught from the start, perhaps because it has been irresponsibly conflated with the claim that the bug was somehow deliberately engineered in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That didn’t happen — but there is a possibility that an accident at the lab led to the escape of a virus researchers were studying.
Among the dots connected by responsible reporters, officials and scientists:
In July, the Times of London reported that a virus 96% identical to SARS-CoV-2 was found in an abandoned Chinese copper mine in 2012. It sickened six men and killed three who had entered to clean out bat guano.
In 2018, State Department investigators visited the WIV and sent two official warnings to Washington about inadequate safety controls there.
Thickening the plot, The Wall Street Journal reported that a U.S. intel report asserts that in early November 2019, three WIV researchers working on coronaviruses were hospitalized with symptoms similar to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, scientists studying the structure of the virus have found other features of the virus consistent with possible laboratory origins.
Finding the truth about COVID-19’s origins could inject real tensions into the global war on this pathogen. But the truth must be found.