Debunking the “lab leak” theory of COVID-19

There’s been an awful lot of clownery going down over the last three years in the US of Amnesia concerning the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that devastated the world from late 2019 onwards (and is still sickening and killing people to this day). Which is why it’s always good to have a corrective in the form of an actual molecular biologist like Dr. Wilson, above. He takes apart the silliest highlights of the recent kerfuffle on Capitol Hill, and explains what really goes on behind the scenes among researchers, and how they actually go about finding what they found regarding the origins of COVID — and no, a nefarious “lab leak” conspiracy, spearheaded by Dr. Anthony Fauci on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, with big wads of money changing hands in return for false narratives, does NOT figure in it, anywhere.

What has been suspected by actual experts since shortly after the start of the pandemic is proving true so far: the virus made the jump from bats through an intermediary species to humans, not via deliberate or accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located a full 40-minute drive from the Huanan Seafood Market, where the virus actually made the jump to humans. If indeed the virus leaked from the lab, we would expect to see the original cluster of cases around the area of the WIV, not the Huanan Seafood Market on the other side of the Yangtze River (and several city blocks away). But the epicentre of the first outbreak was the market, not the lab. From that alone, the lab-leak theory can be readily disproved.

So, how did SARS-CoV-2 get from bats to humans? Since the first cluster of cases appeared around a market where live wild animals were sold, it seems reasonable to surmise that at least one animal brought there for sale was a carrier. And in fact, several potential carriers were identified early on.

The first candidate for an intermediary species was the pangolin. Snakes and turtles were also suspected, because both figure frequently in Chinese cuisine, but it’s now believed that the most likely one is the raccoon dog, a fox-like East Asian canid species that lives in the same regions where the bats which are SARS-CoV-2’s natural primary reservoir can also be found. All of these species were being sold at that market before any remaining ones were removed and destroyed during the initial lockdown to prevent further outbreaks at the site.

Although the haste with which the market was shut down and the remaining animals in it were disposed of without any specimens being taken for testing is regrettable, it is NOT proof of a conspiracy of any kind. At worst, it’s just a sad example of how the race to contain a viral outbreak can end up tripping up researchers before they can even get started in tracing the epidemic to its root. It certainly doesn’t help that under Xi Jinping, China has become much more secretive and distrustful of outsiders than previously, and that might help to explain why initial reports of COVID outbreaks in China were so heavy-handedly suppressed. It certainly does hamper co-operation between Chinese scientists and their foreign counterparts immensely. But that’s not proof of any lab-leak conspiracy, and shouldn’t be read as such. At worst, it might point to the conclusion that Xi’s government was far more interested in covering up the outbreak than in getting to the bottom of it — or helping foreign experts to do so.

While it’s not unheard of for people to pick up a bat-borne virus directly from the infected bats themselves (for instance, bat rabies is a slight but still prevalent risk for spelunkers), it’s more likely that the first people to fall ill with COVID caught it off another mammal, one much closer to humans on the evolutionary tree. Hence the term intermediary species. And DNA traces of this particular bat coronavirus, along with those of the several likely intermediary species it came in on, have been found at the Huanan Seafood Market which was ground zero for the first COVID outbreak.

Once more, with feeling: The infectious cluster centres not on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but the Huanan Seafood Market.

Granted, it might be convenient for scientific purposes that a prominent virology lab is located in the same city as the initial outbreak, but this is just a coincidence. An unfortunate one for the institute’s virologists, no matter what government they work under, since conspiracy kooks can and do latch onto such coincidences as “proof positive” that someone in that lab was cooking something nefarious up. The Wuhan Institute of Virology was instrumental in identifying and genetically sequencing the bat coronavirus linked to the first SARS outbreaks of the early 2000s. That, to some uninformed spinners, makes it look like a virus-manipulating culprit in the current pandemic, which is in fact not related to the virus that caused the original SARS, much less by way of human manipulation.

It doesn’t help, either, that exactly what the virology lab is currently doing is a mystery to the average lay person, thanks to the secrecy imposed by the Chinese government. Scientists both within and outside China are unable to collaborate openly (as they did during SARS and MERS) just when open collaboration is needed the most. And that, in turn, saps trust in public health authorities right at the time when it is most sorely needed.

And in just such a climate, conspiracy loonery tends to flourish, like the mental equivalent to the disease-causing virus.

Public transparency and greater openness on the part of China’s government would do much to take the wind out of the loons’ sails. But at the rate things are currently going (and COVID is still running very rampant), don’t look for that to happen anytime soon. Xi Jinping is going nowhere, Anthony Fauci has been honorably retired as of December, and the Q-Anon rumor mills are still churning wildly as Donnie Drumpf is on his way to a criminal indictment (or several). Unless the COVID pandemic ends as suddenly as it began, and medical science can be definitively shown as the victor in that battle, we’re staring down years, or maybe even decades, of inane bullshit. And that bullshit is going to end up killing untold numbers of people, too.

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