When the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, China, many people immediately raised the concern that it might have been the result of a lab release from a controversial Chinese Lab: the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The lab was working on coronavirus and had raised concerns over its containment protocols. Then there was the fact that China hid the outbreak, arrested top doctors, and buried research on its origins. However, a narrative quickly emerged in countering President Donald Trump’s references to the “China virus.” People, including members of Congress, who referred to the lab were ridiculed on CNN and other outlets as conspiracy theorists. For some of us, the overwhelming media narrative seemed odd and artificial. It would seem obvious that a lab working on viruses in this area would be an obvious possible source. Now, after weeks of chastising those who mentioned the lab theory, another cache of documents and information shows that there are ample reasons to be suspicious and that concerns were raised two years ago within the State Department.
The Washington Post reported that embassy officials in January 2018 alerted U.S. officials of serious problems in the lab which was conducting risky research on bats, the very source of COVIT-19. The United Kingdom has issued a statement that they are seriously considering the lab as a possible source.
The first cable on Jan.19, 2018 flagged serious problems at a lab dealing with the world’s most dangerous viruses: “During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”
The cables discuss Shi Zhengli, the head of the research project, who in November 2017 published a paper on horseshoe bats collected from a case in Yunnan province. That is the same bat population behind the first SARS coronavirus in 2003. The cable stated
“the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”
There is a story here. Not just on whether the lab was the source of the outbreak but whether the media blinded itself to that possibility.