Escape from the Lab!

Terry H. Schwadron

May 26, 2021

We get these periodic reports, opinions and speculations that the virus responsible for the global pandemic that wiped out a year of jobs and has killed millions escaped from a Chinese weapons lab in Wuhan.

Just this week, there was new report from The Wall Street Journal which reported on a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that three researchers from that Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November, 2019, months before China told the world about covid-19. As The Wasington Post notes, it is one of a growing number of reports that the idea that the disease emerged from that Wuhan lab — once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory — has gained new credence, in part because no other explanation has been found.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, our national virology expert, last week told a fact-checking gathering that he is “not convinced” that the underlying virus has a natural origin from bat caves in southern China and supports further probes. It was a break from his previous suggestions that while we don’t know the exact source, elements of the disease are consistent with natural animal-to-animal transmission, without involvement of biological malfeasance in a lab.

Even the World Health Organization, which has been accused of being too timid about challenging the official Chinese versions that deny that the virus escaped from that lab, is discussing mounting another investigative effort to find the origins — as an effort to forestall future pandemics.

The White House’s National Security Council says it continues to have “serious questions about the earliest days of the covid-19 pandemic, including its origins within the Peoples Republic of China,” eerily aligning with many right-leaning voices, including those of Donald Trump, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, and almost all covid conspiracists at blaming China for our global woes.

For the record, our government supports the WHO at seeking an investigation of pandemic origins “that is free from interference or politicization” and that requires China to fess up.

You and I have no idea where the disease actually came from, of course, and rely on all these groups to find out. But we would find it easy to believe that someone screwing around with biological weapons let some bad stuff get out.

The question I’ve had all along is this: So, what if it is a lab mistake?

What is Known

Lots of people, too many in fact, have been eager to use any finding of a Chinese lab accident (or was it an accident?) to justify policies and actions to punish Chinese trade, challenge its military, sanction its lying government, or simply to take out anti-Chinese emotions for lockdowns, masks and vaccines in street violence in this country against anyone seemingly of Asian descent.

How any of that changes the nature of either the disease or its international effects is a mystery, of course. Rather, it seems a justifiable pretext for pursuing a range of anti-China political actions that may or may not have been as prominent without coronavirus.

For Senator Paul, who can’t help himself from continuing to publicly attack Fauci, it seemed indictment enough that not only might the Chinese lab be responsible, but that U.S. money had underwritten one narrow experiment aimed at recording results better — an underwriting of research that Paul seemed eager to blow up into some kind of total exoneration by Fauci of obvious mishandling of dangerous biological research. Apart from all else, Paul’s constant attacks on Fauci help no one understand contagion, masking policies or vaccines better.

On Fox, Tucker Carlson accused Fauci of lying about the possible origins of the virus and questioned why he still had a job.

Where we stand on all this is that the United States, Norway, Canada, Britain, and other countries have formally expressed concerns about the WHO-led origins study, and called for further investigation and full access to all pertinent human, animal and other data about the early stages of the outbreak. China does not agree and has blocked such requests, and its scientists from the Wuhan lab have flatly denied it, pointing instead to other countries, including the U.S. and its military research.

“The U.S. continues to hype the lab leak theory,” a senior Chinese minister said. “Is it actually concerned about tracing the source or trying to divert attention?”

While Trump was president, the White House said outright that “the U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both covid-19 and common seasonal illnesses.” It did not say how many researchers, and Trump cut off funds to WHO as a result.

So What?

What happens if there is a smoking test-tube?

Will the international community — to say nothing of China itself — invoke new regulations on biological weapons research? Will China face a zillion international lawsuits because a small business in New Jersey was forced to close for a year? Would we threaten some kind of military response? Why wouldn’t a hard ban on such biological weapons be a good idea anyway?

With all the attention on seeking a moral high ground, we’re skipping over the basics here. What do we — we the U.S., or the Chinese, or the world health folks — want to have happen?

If feel mostly like we want this hard focus on hypothetical lab accidents to win unrelated advances in U.S.-China relations affecting trade, military supremacy, and soft influence in global politics — all bilateral tensions that are worsening by the day.

As a practical matter, despite international bans, for example, Syria and Russia, at least, reportedly still make chemical and biological weapons– and we don’t know about China and the U.S. And we have a hard time distinguishing which research is for disease prevention and which can become weaponized.

If transparency is what is at issue here, we’re not hearing much more than tirades at the moment, and few clues as to how to improve international sharing of scientific data. Rather, we are witnessing an omerta-like silence descend over anyone connected to that Wuhan lab.

The result is that substantial numbers of Americans and others are unlikely to believe whatever information ever emerges from these ineffective international investigations.

Hey, maybe when the Cyber Ninjas are done looking for Chinese bamboo in Arizona’s ballots, we can send them to Wuhan to look at bat guano.




Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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