Coronavirus lab origin is no longer a "conspiracy theory"

(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Were you one of the people who was criticized or even muted on social media last summer for referring to the microbes causing the pandemic as the “China virus?” It certainly happened to a lot of people. Slowly but surely, however, the narrative has been changing. Not only has it seemed clear from the beginning that the virus originated in or around Wuhan, China, but “following the science” has led some medical experts to increasingly question whether the virus would have been able to make the jump from bats or pangolins to human beings. One of the first media retreats on the “racism” front was seen last week when Politifact retracted one of their fact checks calling the suggestion that it may have originated in a laboratory a “conspiracy theory.”

Now another log has been tossed on that fire. A leaked intelligence document reveals that multiple researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology may have been stricken with COVID as early as November of 2019. Their illness reportedly carried all the symptoms of COVID and was severe enough for the scientists to require hospitalization. Is this a smoking gun? Perhaps not, but it’s certainly another data point to take into consideration. (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)

Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory.

The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the lab, a center for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”

The disclosure of the number of researchers, the timing of their illnesses and their hospital visits come on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into Covid-19’s origins.

Attempts in the media to shut down any discussion of a possible laboratory origin for the novel coronavirus have been nothing more than a politically driven witch hunt from the very beginning. No matter whether this virus cropped up in the wild and made the jump to humans or came out of a test tube, it’s obviously important for us to understand how it started. This isn’t going to be the last pandemic that mankind faces, and if we’re going to be any better prepared next time, we need all of the accurate data that we can possibly obtain.

To be fair to both sides, the report doesn’t definitively state that the scientists contracted COVID. I don’t believe a test for the novel coronavirus had even been developed at that point. (Unless, of course, it actually was developed in a lab and they created a test as a precautionary measure, but that hasn’t been established.) The report specifies that it could have been COVID or a “common seasonal illness.”

There now seems to be little doubt about the source of the intelligence report. One source speaking off the record who was familiar with the origins of the intelligence data described the information as having come from multiple sources and being “of exquisite quality.”

That may not lock down the source of the virus entirely, but some people who have been investigating this question for more than a year believe that this could be an important clue. David Asher, who led a State Department task force researching the question for Mike Pence, has already stated that these details seem a bit much to write off as mere coincidence because of the precautions taken by scientists working in those types of laboratories.

“I’m very doubtful that three people in highly protected circumstances in a level three laboratory working on coronaviruses would all get sick with influenza that put them in the hospital or in severe conditions all in the same week, and it didn’t have anything to do with the coronavirus,” he said, adding that the researchers’ illness may represent “the first known cluster” of Covid-19 cases.

Speaking strictly as a layman, it seems to me as if the scientists working on this project should be able to sort out the identity of the first known strain of the novel coronavirus and match it against samples being held in laboratories. Scientists still aren’t entirely sure if a virus qualifies as a “life form” but every virus does contain a basic type of either DNA or RNA. Its genome can be decoded and used to identify it. That appears to be how we keep identifying new variants on a regular basis. If each strain of the virus has a “fingerprint” we should be able to trace its origins, right?

The question is whether or not the Chinese have been fully open and cooperative with the ongoing World Health Organization investigation. The UN (which oversees the WHO) has been quick to praise China’s participation in the investigation, but their motives are suspect on the best of days when it comes to China.