According to a new research paper, published by scientists at the South China University of Technology, the 2019 Novel Coronavirus may very well have originated at a Virology research lab in Wuhan, Hubei – one of only 2 labs of its kind in the whole of China. However, this has largely been debunked as a conspiracy theory, with a group of 27 scientists strongly condemning the so-called “scientific” paper: “The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins,” the scientists, from nine countries, wrote in a statement published by The Lancet yesterday. So Did Covid-19 leak from a lab?

About the virus

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a little bit of background on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus – or Covid-19. The virus began in Wuhan, Hubei, several months ago, although it took until January to get any notice on an international scale. Since then, it has spread to more than 50 countries around the world. There are currently over 110,000 confirmed cases of the virus, and 3,800 deaths. 

Covid-19 is a type of coronavirus, a subset of viruses that can transmit from animal to human. Other notable coronaviruses include SARS, which also began in China and reportedly spread from bats, and MERs, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia and was transmitted from camels. 

Theories about its transmission

The theory that Covid-19 originated in a lab has been circulating on social media and in blogs for weeks, as well as in the research paper mentioned earlier. However, it really gained traction when Steven Mosher, a social scientist and president of the Population Research Institute in Virginia, USA, published a New York Post article in late Feb. 

In the article, Mosher describes a variety of reasons as to why he believes Covid-19 may have accidentally been leaked by China’s National Biosafety Laboratory in Wuhan, where researchers study bat coronaviruses. 

He argues that the lab is less than 10 miles from the center of the outbreak, the seafood market where the virus was originally discovered, and that the SARS-CoV virus was able to escape virology labs in China multiple times. 

The circumstantial evidence surrounding it is pretty compelling… The idea that the epicenter of this epidemic would be just a few miles from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan, which is where we know that dangerous pathogens are being kept and looked at as potential bioweapons, I think the odds against that are just astronomical,” Mosher told The Scientist.

Chinese censorship 

Although the likelihood of the virus originating in a lab seems to be something out of a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream, it’s clear why people are giving it so much attention. China is a notoriously secretive nation, where state censorship abounds. It would ultimately make sense for the government to cover something like this up, particularly because it makes them look bad. 

China is probably the most heavily surveilled country in the world. Not only are there cameras on every street corner, they’re also in the process of setting up a mass surveillance system that tracks the behaviour of its citizens, and ranks them based on their “social credit.” Censorship is rife, as is surveillance, and citizens that are trying to get news out about the virus are disappearing. 

More and more citizen journalists covering the coronavirus are going missing, with the New York Times reporting the following: 

“The beige van squatted outside of a Wuhan hospital, its side and back doors ajar. Fang Bin, a local clothing salesman, peered inside as he walked past. He groaned: “So many dead.” He counted five, six, seven, eight body bags. “This is too many.” 

“That moment, in a 40-minute video about the coronavirus outbreak that has devastated China, propelled Mr. Fang to internet fame. Then, less than two weeks later, he disappeared.

Days earlier, another prominent video blogger in Wuhan, Chen Qiushi, had also gone missing. 

“Mr. Chen’s friends and family said they believed he had been forcibly quarantined. 

“Before their disappearances, Mr. Fang and Mr. Chen had recorded dozens of videos from Wuhan, streaming unfiltered and often heartbreaking images from the center of the outbreak. Long lines outside hospitals. Feeble patients. Agonized relatives.”

This is only a snippet of a story that covers the disappearances of citizen journalists, and it poses the question – what exactly does China have to hide? Ultimately, the world has a right to know whether its response to the virus has been acceptable, and citizen journalists were the ones getting the majority of that information out. 

Now, more and more of these journalists are going missing. So, Did Covid-19 leak from a lab?, and it’s largely due to censorship. 

 Did Covid-19 leak from a lab

Freedom of Speech

China is probably one of the best equipped country’s to deal with the outbreak of a virus like this so harshly. Already, its citizens are used to having to comply with its will or face major consequences. The rest of the world would not be able to respond with such severity, and will likely have to take inspiration from measures put in place in other virus hotspots like Hong Kong or South Korea. 

Freedom of speech is limited in China, and it’s arguably the most heavily surveilled country in the world. Why then are we not discussing the fact that major human rights abuses are likely going on under the regime’s plans to stamp out Covid-19. Freedom of movement is a right, and while quarantine is absolutely necessary, it’s difficult to understand the measures that the Chinese government have undertaken to impose it. 

China will have a lot to answer for 

So, did Covid-19 leak from a lab? We’re not entirely sure who to believe, but one thing is for sure: if they don’t get the Covid-19 outbreak under control relatively soon, China will have a hell of a lot to answer for. Spoiler alert: it has a hell of a lot to do with censorship, and the lack of an appropriate response to prevent a global pandemic. With over 3,800 deaths, and 110,000 infections, the number of people affected by this virus is rising. From January to February alone, reported infections grew from just over 500 to 80,000 – which is absolutely astronomical. If the current rate of infection continues, we could see between 40 million and 70 million cases worldwide. Talk about a big yikes. 

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