There’s one other wrinkle to keep in mind. Right now, everything we know about the Wuhan Institute of Virology indicates it is a research laboratory that was studying coronaviruses in the name of health research. The original SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 had more than 5,300 cases in China and killed 349 people. It is entirely natural and expected that Chinese health officials and doctors would want to know more about coronaviruses, to be prepared to fight some future outbreak.

But this is not to say that Chinese government has no interest in biological weapons. China signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1984, but a July 2019 report by the U.S. State Department noted that China “possessed an offensive biological warfare program from the early 1950s to at least the late 1980s” and that “the United States has compliance concerns with respect to Chinese military medical institutions’ toxin research and development because of the potential dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat.”

This does not mean that SARS-CoV-2 is a biological weapon. What it means is that the Chinese government’s interest in and enthusiasm for researching contagious viruses may not be entirely driven by altruistic reasons.