Behind the Wuhan Lab Leak Theory


Last month, a letter by 18 scientists published in the journal Science called for a more extensive investigation into the origin of the coronavirus that factors in two theories: natural occurrence and lab spillover. The letter propelled more demands to investigate the lab-leak theory that was originally propagated by former President Trump and his followers. 

Although scientific evidence hasn’t changed, critics insist that China hasn’t been transparent about the early days of the pandemic. Due to uncertainty and the fear of politicization, scientists either avoided or dismissed the topic. But it is now gaining ground. 

White House Chief Medical Adviser and top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has denied that scientists were compelled to suppress the lab leak hypothesis. He stated that despite the leanings towards the virus being a natural phenomenon, health officials were encouraged to be open-minded. 

The theory started gaining popularity in May this year after news regarding the Wuhan Institute of Virology surfaced; a US intelligence report detailed that three researchers at the institute fell ill in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and common seasonal illness. Since then, President Biden has directed US intelligence agencies to carry out a 90-day investigation into the virus’s origins.  

The theories related to the origin of the coronavirus can be broadly split into three categories: the virus evolved naturally and was transmitted to humans from an infected animal, the virus evolved naturally but an employee of the institute got infected and accidentally leaked it into the community, the lab’s scientists intentionally or unintentionally released the pathogen while manipulating virus samples.

Although no theory can be ruled out as of now, it might take a while before we get all the answers to how the virus originated —  as is the case with the Ebola virus. First discovered in 1976, Ebola is believed to have spread from humans to bats or nonhuman primates. However, scientists still can’t link it to a specific animal host.