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May 28, 2021

In Brief: Evidence of a Wuhan Lab Leak

It’s considerable, albeit circumstantial, and it’s incredibly persuasive.

As we noted yesterday, National Review’s Jim Geraghty collected a mountain of evidence regarding the likelihood that COVID-19 was released from a Wuhan lab. He is clear about what that means:

No, the lab-leak theory isn’t quite proven.

But there is a clear and verified sequence of events that strongly suggests that this pandemic, which has caused more than 168 million cases and more than 3.4 million deaths worldwide, may well have originated from viruses carried in bats in an abandoned mine that then passed through a Chinese research facility before spreading out of control among the people of Wuhan.

So, back to the beginning:

In April 2012, six miners were assigned to clean bat guano from a copper mineshaft in Tongguan, Mojiang, Yunnan Province, China. This is south-central China, about a 120-mile drive from the border of Laos, and a 195-mile drive to the border of Vietnam.

Four miners had been working at the site for two weeks, and two had been working for four days when they all grew ill with a cough and fever, difficulty breathing, aching limbs, heavy and bloody mucus and saliva, and headaches — symptoms of a viral respiratory infection that is similar to the effects of COVID-19. All six miners were admitted to Kunming hospital in late April and early May, and three died.

Geraghty says that “blood samples from the miners were sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for antibody testing,” and researchers later “conducted a study of coronaviruses in bats in that abandoned mineshaft.” In 2015, he notes, “the Wuhan Institute of Virology became the first facility in China to complete construction of a Biosafety Level Four laboratory, the highest level of safety possible, to work with the most-dangerous viruses and pathogens.”

In January 2018, two American officials in Wuhan sent a memo to Washington expressing serious concerns about the Wuhan lab’s methods and practices, including “a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”

The State Department memo also noted that the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s research into the viruses in bats in Yunnan Province was funded, at least in a small part, by U.S. taxpayers.

That’s another reason for a lot of questions. And here are a lot of other reasons:

In February 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged around China, a team of researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology concluded that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused COVID-19, was “highly similar throughout the genome to RaTG13” — the virus found in the mineshaft — “with an overall genome sequence identity of 96.2 percent.”

Wuhan is about 1,140 miles away from the mineshaft, a 21-hour drive by car, roughly the distance from New Orleans to New York City. The city of Wuhan is well beyond the natural habitat and natural migration patterns of bats who are most likely to carry viruses such as this one.

No outbreaks of COVID-19 were found between Yunnan Province and Wuhan before the outbreak in the city of Wuhan in December 2019. According to Chinese health officials, the first COVID-19 patient in Yunnan Province was diagnosed on January 21, 2020.

There are also major problems with the popular wet market theory that don’t disprove it but make it hard to believe:

Twenty-seven of the first 41 COVID-19 patients could be traced back to the market — suggesting that someone infected and contagious was at the market early on, but not necessarily indicating that the virus first originated there. In fact, the person with the earliest onset of symptoms, on December 1, 2019, could not be traced back to the market, and three of the first four patients could not be traced back to the market. A later larger study of the first 99 people diagnosed with COVID-19 found that only 49 could be traced back to the Huanan Seafood Market.

Geraghty then gets to a curious piece of information — a May 2020 NBC News report indicating, “Private analysis of cellphone location data purports to show that a high-security Wuhan laboratory studying coronaviruses shut down in October.” There are many explanations for that, and he doesn’t make too much of it other than to wonder about the timing: “Maybe something went seriously wrong within the walls of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in October.”

And then there’s China’s other behavior:

From the beginning of the outbreak, the local Wuhan and national Chinese government’s strategy has been to lie and to punish those who were telling the truth. To say that the Chinese government has acted as if they have something to hide is an understatement of monumental proportions.

Thus, Geraghty draws some solid conclusions by inference:

The zoonotic theory — that is, believing the virus jumped from bats to humans without one of the Wuhan laboratories playing a role — is missing an infected bat. Or an infected pangolin. Or a verifiable patient zero. Or evidence that any of the animals at the Huanan Seafood Market were the source of the initial infection. Or evidence that any animals at any other wet markets in Wuhan were the source of the initial infection. Or a bunch of animal-smugglers who got sick with COVID-19–like symptoms in November 2019. Or any diagnosed cases in Yunnan Province until well after the initial outbreak in Wuhan.

The lab-leak theory requires us to believe that SARS-CoV-2 is either a mutated version of the strain that attacked the miners in 2012, another virus found in the bats living in that copper mine, or a version of one of those viruses altered through gain-of-function research. It fits with the remarkable coincidence of an outbreak of a pandemic of a coronavirus found in bats beginning in a city with two facilities researching coronaviruses found in bats. It explains why no cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Yunnan Province until late January. It might even explain why cellphones went dark within the lab for several weeks, if that NBC News report is accurate.

This lab-leak theory would at least partially explain the Chinese and Wuhan government’s secrecy, the regime’s initial lies about the contagiousness of the virus, the sweeping efforts to cover up the truth about the virus, including threatening doctors with arrest, the persistent refusal to cooperate with the World Health Organization and its teams, the withholding of data about the initial patients, and the Chinese foreign ministry’s laughable accusations that COVID-19 is a U.S. bioweapon.

Which scenario makes more sense to you?

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