A report published by The Washington Times made a case for linking the 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV to a Chinese covert biological weapons program, thereby suggesting that the Wuhan outbreak originated from a laboratory accident.
Arguments for Linking the Novel Coronavirus to a Bioweapons Program
The evidence? A rebroadcasted television report from 2015 by Radio Free Asia showcasing the Wuhan Institute of Virology and a statement by Dany Shoham, a former military intelligence officer from Israel who studied Chinese biological warfare.
Shoham explained that the institute is the only declared laboratory in China capable of handling deadly viruses. Furthermore, he noted that several labs within the institute might have been engaged in bioweapons research and developments.
The credentials of the former Israeli operative are impressive. Shoham has a PhD in medical microbiology, and from 1970 to 1991, he held the rank of a lieutenant colonel, serving as a senior analyst for Middle East biological and chemical warfare.
Another report by the British newspaper Daily Mail also suggested that the specific National Biosafety Laboratory within the Wuhan Institute of Virology could be the exact origin of 2019-nCoV. Accordingly, the lab opened in 2017 to study SARS, Ebola, and other viruses that can cause epidemics and pandemics.
Several safety concerns were raised surrounding the operation of the biosafety laboratory. For example, in 2017, researchers from the United States expressed concerns over the possibility of a virus accidentally escaping the facility, thus causing an outbreak.
Reasons Why the 2019-nCov is Not a Lab-Made Biological Weapon
However, extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. The suggestion by The Washington Times and the claim made by Shoham are undeniably sensational but remain unsubstantiated. The article by the Daily Mail only provided mere inferences.
Covert operations within the Wuhan Institute of Virology would be hard to determine. It is still important to note that this institution has an open collaboration with the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
It was also designed by French engineers and has since been recognized as a world-class research institution specializing in virology and immunology. Furthermore, it is relatively open compared with other Chinese research institutes.
Another reason why it is impossible to link 2019-nCoV to a bioweapons program centers on the fact that its genetic sequence has now become available for public scrutiny. So far, researchers have looked into the sequence, and there is no indication that it is an engineered pathogen.
Cross-species transmission or spillover remains the prevailing and widely-accepted theory about the origin of the novel coronavirus. However, the exact mechanism and chain of events behind the jump from an animal source to humans are still under investigation.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Gertz, B. 2020, January 26. “Coronavirus May Have Originated in Lab Linked to China’s Biowarfare Program.” The Washington Times. Available online
- Hoffmann, E. 2020. “Spillover: How Viruses Jump from Animals to Humans.” Profolus. Available online
- Hui, D. S. et al. 2020. “The Continuing 2019-nCoV Epidemic Threat of Novel Coronaviruses to Global Health – The Latest 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak in Wuhan, China.” International Journal of Infectious Disease. 91(2020): 264-266. DOI: 1016/j.ijid.2020.01.009
- Rahhal, N. 2020, January 23. “China Built a Lab to Study SARS and Ebola in Wuhan.” Daily Mail. Available online