|WIV is also home to the China Center for Virus Culture Collection and is the largest virus bank in the continent./ Photo by Dragon Images via Shutterstock|
The United States government is investigating whether Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan laboratory instead of a wet market, multiple sources familiar with the matter said via CNN.
Coronavirus: accidentally released?
Nestled in the outskirts of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus crisis is a Chinese high-security laboratory that is now the center of the US investigation. While Chinese scientists claim that the Covid-19 likely originated from an animal to humans when the wildlife was sold in a wet market, the US explores the possibility that the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a research institute on virology.
WIV is also home to the China Center for Virus Culture Collection and is the largest virus bank in the continent. It is reportedly preserves more than 1,5000 strains and is equipped to handle Class 4 pathogens or dangerous viruses that pose a high risk of a person to person transmission, such as Ebola. The laboratory was completed in 2015 and was opened in 2018.
Since 2012, the research institute has had a P3 laboratory, a kind of containment facility that enables manipulation and isolation of dangerous biological materials and subjected to biological safety standards 3.
BSL standards are a series of protections that occur in biological labs to protect laboratory personnel, the surrounding environment, and the community. The levels are ranked one to four based on the organisms or agents being researched. The labs are determined by their risks related to containment, the severity of the infection, nature of the work conducted, transmissibility, the agent in question, the origin of the microbe, and route of exposure.
|BSL standards are a series of protections that occur in biological labs to protect laboratory personnel, the surrounding environment, and the community. / Photo by Pressmaster via Shutterstock|
Lab’s work on bat coronavirus
According to another report from the Washington Post, the US Embassy in Beijing reportedly took the “unusual step” of sending US science diplomats to the WIV in 2018. What the officials learned during their visit to the Wuhan lab concerned them so much that they followed their action by dispatching diplomatic cables (embassy cable or confidential message exchanged between diplomatic mission) that were categorized as “Sensitive But Unclassified.”
Back then, the first cable already warned that the laboratory was working on bat coronaviruses and had the potential to be transmitted to a human, representing the risk of a SARS-like pandemic. Although the report said that no one is credible enough to suggest that today’s Covid-19 was “engineered” in the Wuhan lab, it does not say that it did not come from that laboratory. That is why there is a theory that it may have “escaped” from the lab.
US intelligence, reviewing sensitive data aimed at the Chinese government
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has demanded that Beijing “come clean” after reports that the virus may have originated in a laboratory in China, not as a bioweapon but an experiment to prove that their scientists are superior in determining virus threats. Pompeo added that the Wuhan laboratory in question is also a “handful of miles away from where the wet market was.” The government is still working diligently to find out about the source and admits that “there is still a lot to learn.”
The theory that the virus came from a Wuhan lab and was just accidentally released to the public has been pushed by US President Trump’s supporters, who are eager to deflect the criticisms on how the administration is handling the pandemic.
When Trump was asked about at a White House Press conference about the allegations, he said that they are doing a “very thorough examination” of what had happened. He also said it would be “inappropriate” to talk about it right now.
Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, nevertheless, said that they are taking a “hard look” at the matter and the weight of evidence seems to indicate the origin of the virus.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian rejected US' allegations. He pointed out that the position of China has been clear on the transmission routes and the origin of the novel coronavirus. Even the World Health Organization has repeatedly stated that there has been no evidence pointing to Covid-19 originating from a lab. Renowned medical experts have also called the theory “lab leaks” because it lacks scientific proof to prove that it came from the laboratory.
What WHO mentions is that many of the initial Covid-19 patients were either market employees, regular visitors of the market, and stall owners. Environmental samples have also been taken from the market and it helped suggest that the wet market was the source of the outbreak.
“For me, the pandemic origin is still an open question,” King’s College London biosecurity researcher Filippa Lentzos said.
Daily new confirmed Covid-19 deaths: the US and China
From 11 daily new confirmed Covid-19 deaths on January 22, China now has only 1 daily new death caused by the virus. On the other hand, the US has 2,408 daily new confirmed Covid-19 deaths as of April 15. In global comparison, locations where confirmed Covid-19 deaths are increasing most rapidly are in Sudan, Kuwait, Isle of Man, and Jersey. This is according to scientific online publication Our World in Data. However, the statistics highlight that the daily or a total number of confirmed deaths does not provide us the understanding or compare the speed at which the toll is increasing. It simply shows how long it has taken for the number of Covid-19 deaths to double.
The pandemic has also highlighted the healthcare system of each country. The United States reportedly has 2.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people while China has 4.2. This is fewer than the number of hospital beds in Turkmenistan with 7.4 beds per 1,000 people and Mongolia 7.0, according to the World Health Organization.
Others may see the theory as a blame-game but it does make sense to determine the source of the virus because if we can determine how the virus first infected humans, the world can make sure that nothing like this will ever happen again. In the process, though, world leaders should resist throwing mud at one another as it can impede the global effort to fight the pandemic.