Earlier this week Tucker Carlson did a segment on the origin of the coronavirus. Carlson, who has been pretty aggressive in his coverage of the virus, pointed out a Chinese research paper (since pulled by the author) which claimed the virus could not have arisen at the Wuhan wet market because the horseshoe bats where the virus arose were not for sale at the market. In fact, the bats are not naturally found anywhere within 900 miles of the market. However, bats were being studied for viruses they carried in two labs including one just a few hundred meters from the market.
Initially, discussion of this topic was treated as a conspiracy theory because some people suggested, absent any evidence, that the virus might be an escaped bio-weapon. As I wrote here, experts strongly dispute that possibility. However the possibility of an accidental release of the virus from a lab is starting to get a bit more attention.
Yesterday the Washington Post published a column by David Ignatius titled “How did covid-19 begin? Its initial origin story is shaky.” Ignatius reviews much of the same material that Carlson had mentioned and concludes that an accidental release of the virus is a genuine possibility:
Less than 300 yards from the seafood market is the Wuhan branch of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers from that facility and the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology have posted articles about collecting bat coronaviruses from around China, for study to prevent future illness. Did one of those samples leak, or was hazardous waste deposited in a place where it could spread?
Richard Ebright, a Rutgers microbiologist and biosafety expert, told me in an email that “the first human infection could have occurred as a natural accident,” with the virus passing from bat to human, possibly through another animal. But Ebright cautioned that it “also could have occurred as a laboratory accident, with, for example, an accidental infection of a laboratory worker.” He noted that bat coronaviruses were studied in Wuhan at Biosafety Level 2, “which provides only minimal protection,” compared with the top BSL-4.
Ebright described a December video from the Wuhan CDC that shows staffers “collecting bat coronaviruses with inadequate [personal protective equipment] and unsafe operational practices.” Separately, I reviewed two Chinese articles, from 2017 and 2019, describing the heroics of Wuhan CDC researcher Tian Junhua, who while capturing bats in a cave “forgot to take protective measures” so that “bat urine dripped from the top of his head like raindrops.”
Today, National Review’s Jim Geraghty has more in a piece titled “The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs.” Geraghty directs his attention to a YouTube video released this week by a documentary filmmaker who has lived in China for 10 years. The video points to several job listings which appeared on the website for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a separate lab located a few miles from the market. The job listings indicate the lab was researching bat viruses very similar to the coronavirus at the time it began to spread:
On December 24, 2019, the Wuhan Institute of Virology posted a second job posting. The translation of that posting includes the declaration, “long-term research on the pathogenic biology of bats carrying important viruses has confirmed the origin of bats of major new human and livestock infectious diseases such as SARS and SADS, and a large number of new bat and rodent new viruses have been discovered and identified.”
The video, which you can watch below, also discusses virologist Shi Zhengli who was called “bat woman” for her extensive research on viruses in bats. She was called in late December when the virus began to spread and her first thought was that it might have been released from her lab [emphasis added]:
Shi—a virologist who is often called China’s “bat woman” by her colleagues because of her virus-hunting expeditions in bat caves over the past 16 years—walked out of the conference she was attending in Shanghai and hopped on the next train back to Wuhan. “I wondered if [the municipal health authority] got it wrong,” she says. “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China.” Her studies had shown that the southern, subtropical areas of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan have the greatest risk of coronaviruses jumping to humans from animals—particularly bats, a known reservoir for many viruses. If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, “could they have come from our lab?”
After reviewing her logs she says she was relieved to find that her lab had never studied the exact coronavirus spreading in Wuhan. But the filmmaker notes that another researcher at the lab is believed by some to have been patient zero. Her photo and profile were removed from the lab’s website and the government posted a statement denouncing rumors that she had died. But so far she has not been located.
Finally, here’s a bit of that retracted Chinese research paper on the likely origin of the virus:
The bats carrying CoV ZC45 were originally found in Yunnan or Zhejiang province, both of which were more than 900 kilometers away from the seafood market. Bats were normally found to live in caves and trees. But the seafood market is in a densely-populated district of Wuhan, a metropolitan [area] of ~15 million people. The probability was very low for the bats to fly to the market. According to municipal reports and the testimonies of 31 residents and 28 visitors, the bat was never a food source in the city, and no bat was traded in the market. There was possible natural recombination or intermediate host of the coronavirus, yet little proof has been reported.
Was there any other possible pathway? We screened the area around the seafood market and identified two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus. Within ~ 280 meters from the market, there was the Wuhan Center for Disease Control & Prevention. WHCDC hosted animals in laboratories for research purpose, one of which was specialized in pathogens collection and identification. In one of their studies, 155 bats including Rhinolophus affinis were captured in Hubei province, and other 450 bats were captured in Zhejiang province…
In summary, somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus. In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.
None of this is conclusive but it’s also not a wide-eyed conspiracy theory. In any case, we’d be crazy to take the CCP’s denials on it. Having blamed the origin of the virus on the U.S. and Italy at various points, the Chinese government has no credibility on this topic. That said, the conclusions drawn here are far from proven. The wet market origin of the virus may still turn out to be the truth in which case its proximity to two labs studying bats may be just an amazing coincidence.