How the COVID Lab Leak Theory Became Mainstream

  • The FBI director added his support to the claim that the COVID-19 was leaked from a lab in China.
  • The theory was dismissed by some as disinformation in the early months of the pandemic.
  • But it has gained credibility in some quarters, despite angry denials from China.

Once dismissed as a wild conspiracy theory, the claim that COVID-19 leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, has gained traction.

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday lent his support to the claim in an interview with Fox News, saying the virus “likely” came from a “lab controlled by the Chinese government.”

“The FBI has long been investigating the origin of the pandemic as a potential lab incident,” he said, in the first public confirmation of the FBI’s classified judgment on the origin of the pandemic.

It comes days after the US Department of Energy found a leak in the lab as the likely source of the illness – although it said it reached that conclusion with a low level of confidence. In response, Beijing accused Washington of “political manipulation”.

China has pushed another theory, suggesting that COVID-19 may have jumped to people from frozen food shipped from elsewhere in the world.

So how did the claim that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab find its way into the mainstream?

Lab leak theory was initially dismissed

Suspicion that COVID-19 may have leaked from a lab in Wuhan has been widespread since the early days of the pandemic.

The theories point to the fact that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where research on coronaviruses has long been carried out, is located a short distance from the market where the first cases were linked.

Trump Fauci

Former President Donald Trump and Dr Anthony Fauci, considered a leading expert on infectious disease in the world.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

When former President Donald Trump began promoting the theory in April, 2020, it became the subject of fierce partisan debate in the US, with some dismissing it as a conspiracy. Trump has sought to use the pandemic to vilify China, using the xenophobic term “China virus” to describe the disease.

Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top expert on infectious diseases, said in 2020 that he believed the virus originated in nature, but recently expressed doubt that we will ever know its source. of the virus.

China’s lack of transparency has fueled the rumours

China has since the first days of the pandemic resisted a full and transparent investigation into its origins, fueling rumors and speculation.

Beijing strongly rejected the claim that the virus could have originated in a lab, describing the hypothesis as having no scientific basis.

China has pushed its own conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, claiming it originated in US labs, a claim it has offered no evidence for.


Firefighters prepare to conduct disinfection at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on April 3, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

Getty Images

When Australia pushed for international inspectors to be allowed access to China in 2020 to investigate the origins of COVID-19, Beijing responded with more economic sanctions.

However, China allowed World Health Organization (WHO) investigators into the country in 2020 as part of a joint review. A January 2021 WHO report found that it was likely of environmental origin, and described the lab leak theory as “unlikely,” but added that China had not been fully cooperative. A group of scientists criticized the WHO for dismissing the lab leak thesis too quickly, and pointed out gaps in the report’s evidence.

China has rejected calls for a follow-up investigation, pointing to a report by one of its top virologists that found multiple strains of the coronavirus that could have jumped from people to bat caves near Wuhan in 2015.

Yet the lab leak theory continues to gain credibility, despite China’s efforts, and scientists who once dismissed it now consider it a plausible explanation.

We may never know the truth

In May 2021, US media reported that intelligence agencies found that several Wuhan lab employees had been admitted to the hospital in November 2019, weeks before the first recorded cases of COVID-19 . Soon after, President Joe Biden ordered intelligence agencies to renew their efforts to determine the origin of the virus.

But for now, the prospect of researchers being allowed to conduct a new on-the-ground study in China appears remote, and a conclusive answer to the mystery does not seem to be close.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday rejected the US ambassadors’ call for more transparency from China on the origin of the COVID-19. Mao Ning called on US investigators to “stop slandering China and stop politicizing the origins.”

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