Was the Pandemic Really Caused by a Lab-Leak?

Was the Pandemic Really Caused by a Lab-Leak?

Thursday, May 27, 2021
By JEFFREY KLUGER

From the start, most mainstream scientists and world leaders believed SARS-CoV-2 originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China. Former President Donald Trump and his allies, meanwhile, saw something more sinister at work: the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they said, and Beijing was covering up the accident. That led Trump to give the virus racist nicknames like the “China Flu” and the “Kung Flu.” Arkansas Senator and Trump ally Tom Cotton likened the alleged leak to the Chernobyl disaster in the former U.S.S.R.

As my colleague Philip Elliot reports, that kind of hot rhetoric—coupled with a dearth of evidence to support the lab-leak claim—led many to simply dismiss the idea. But today, with President Joe Biden in charge, epidemiologists are increasingly giving the theory a second look. Just yesterday, Biden ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough study on the origins of the virus—with a special focus on the lab-leak possibility—and report back to him within 90 days.

Part of the reason for the new push is new intelligence, reported on by the Wall Street Journal, showing that at least a few workers in the Wuhan lab came down with suspiciously COVID-like symptoms in November of 2019, not long before the virus broke out into the world.That led Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to call for a fresh investigation into the virus’ origins, saying the probe must be swift and independent, setting up a distinction from a February study by the World Health Organization and China that concluded a lab jailbreak was not the source—and which critics say was compromised by China’s involvement.

All of this points not just to problems in epidemiological sleuthing, Philip reports, but in the powerful x-factor of presidential credibility. Trump may have received more than 74 million votes last November, but a Gallup poll last June found that only 36% of Americans considered him “honest and trustworthy,” the wages of what the Washington Post counted as the former President’s 30,573 misleading claims over the course of his four-year term.

This week, Trump claimed some vindication on the Wuhan front: “Now everybody is agreeing that I was right when I very early on called Wuhan as the source of COVID-19, sometimes referred to as the China Virus,” he said in a statement. “To me it was obvious from the beginning but I was badly criticized, as usual.”

Personal grievance notwithstanding, Trump’s original theory may be borne out. Maybe we’ll know in 90 days. But had the former president won the trust of more than 36% of his constituents while he was still in office, perhaps a thorough investigation—and a definitive answer—could have been forthcoming sooner.