Why does the theory that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, leaked from a laboratory in China endure so persistently? Above all, it isn’t because public, hard, tested evidence is growing at pace. The theory instead seems to persist mostly because of several massive coincidences.
Firstly, Wuhan, where the disease almost certainly began in China, is home to China’s major biosafety level 4 laboratory, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). It, and two other laboratories in Wuhan, were doing research on coronaviruses, some of it in bats. The WIV sequenced the genetic code of the closest-known ancestor in bats to SARS-CoV-2, a virus called RatG13. It is 96.2% of the way identical to the novel coronavirus that caused the pandemic. One of the WIV’s leading researchers, Shi Zhengli, is called the “Bat Lady.”
Secondly, three of the WIV’s staff fell ill in November 2019, just before the known outbreak started, US intelligence reporting has said. They needed hospitalization, the reporting said. (But we don’t know for what disease. We also don’t have access to any samples taken from them when they were ill, or the results of any SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests after they were ill.) The World Health Organization (WHO) report into this issue, relying on Chinese government-supplied data, presented a different conclusion. It said the staff health monitoring program at the three laboratories in Wuhan showed no antibody test positives, or records of Covid-19-type illnesses, in the weeks prior to December 2019.
Finally, there’s a third coincidence. The Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, key to virus prevention and detection, moved its laboratory in Wuhan on December 2, 2019. The WHO report, written in conjunction with Chinese officials, notes this fact and says it could have been disruptive to a laboratory’s operations. It also notes the lab moved to a location near the Huanan Seafood Market, the exotic animal trade center thought to have played a major role in the virus’ early spread. The move happened just six days before the first patient experienced Covid-19 symptoms, according to China’s account. (He is, the WHO report said, an accountant working for a family company, with no known history of attending crowded events, animal “wet market” contact, or exotic trips to the wilderness. These facts suggest he may have got it in the city, perhaps from another person).