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Mike Pompeo says there’s evidence the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan lab

Published Jan 17th, 2021 1:37PM EST
Coronavirus Pandemic Origin
Image: karn/Adobe
  • Outgoing State Secretary Mike Pompeo claims that the US government has reason to believe several researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in autumn 2019, long before the first admitted cases of COVID-19.
  • Pompeo said that the symptoms were consistent with COVID-19 without revealing more details about the claims.
  • The press release calls for the WHO to press China’s government for more details surrounding the alleged infections at the Wuhan lab, experiments on a bat coronavirus strain studied in the lab, and military ties to the Wuhan lab.

Just as the World Health Organization’s probe into the origins of COVID-19 is starting, outgoing US State Secretary Mike Pompeo dropped a bombshell on Friday, claiming the existence of new information that supports the idea of COVID-19 having accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan. In the early days of the pandemic, conspiracy theories flourished online surrounding the idea that the novel coronavirus was created in a lab. According to these completely unfounded theories, the virus was either engineered in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), escaped accidentally after infecting employees, or a combination of both. President Trump and some administration members have entertained the idea, even though scientific and intelligence reports agreed that the most likely explanation was that the virus evolved naturally in animals. Some still argue that the lab accident idea has merit and shouldn’t be overlooked during the WHO’s investigation.

China has vehemently denied that the virus escaped a lab and sought to distance itself as much as possible from the virus. The country has been pushing all sorts of theories for the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, saying it might have appeared in Europe or the Indian subcontinent before arriving in Wuhan. But China has also been delaying the WHO investigation as much as possible, receiving plenty of criticism in the process. Many have also criticized China for its failure to address the threat in the Wuhan epidemic’s initial days and share information transparently with other nations.

“To assist the vital work of the World Health Organization (WHO) investigative team that arrived in China this week, the United States government is today sharing new information concerning the activities inside China’s government laboratories in 2019,” Pompeo said in a press statement.

Pompeo highlighted three things that the WHO should press China about, including illnesses at WIV in the fall of 2019, WIV’s research of RaTG13 (the closest bat coronavirus to SARS-CoV-2), and the supposed “secret WIV links to military research.”

“The United States 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,” the press release reads. “This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses.”

The State Department also provided a fact sheet alongside the press release. The document acknowledges that “virus could have emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, spreading in a pattern consistent with a natural epidemic.”

“Alternatively, a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak if the initial exposure included only a few individuals and was compounded by asymptomatic infection. Scientists in China have researched animal-derived coronaviruses under conditions that increased the risk for accidental and potentially unwitting exposure,” the document says, adding that the US government does not know exactly “where, when or how” the virus was initially transmitted to humans.

Pompeo’s remarks do not offer any specific information about the alleged coronavirus infections that might have spread between WIV researchers last fall.

Several studies had shown that the novel coronavirus was spreading in various countries, including France, Italy, and the US, before late December 2019 when China first announced the illness. Beijing used these studies to fuel its narrative that the coronavirus might have a different origin other than Wuhan. Those studies may indeed show that the novel coronavirus was spreading out of China before the country acknowledged the new illness. However, that’s not proof that the virus’s origin lies in another country.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.