The World Health Organisation is the latest international agency to come down against rumours that the novel coronavirus emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, as spokesperson Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva that “all available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not manipulated or constructed in a lab or somewhere else”, Reuters reported.
“It is probable, likely that the virus is of animal origin,” she said.
Last week, US President Donald Trump had announced that his government was investigating the source of the coronavirus, and has threatened China with severe action in case the country turned out to have been ‘knowingly responsible’ for COVID-19. On Saturday, Trump said his administration was looking into reports that the virus may have been manufactured.
“If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake. But if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, I mean, then sure there should be consequences,” Trump said.
Theories that the virus was created as a bioweapon have been doing the rounds ever since the coronavirus started spreading across the globe. Wuhan, the first hotspot and likely origin of the virus, is also home to China’s only biosafety level-four lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was designed to study deadly pathogens. In addition, a 1981 Dean Koontz novel also included mention of a virus being designed at Wuhan (though the WIV was declared a level-4 lab only in 2015).
So many accusations have been levied at this lab that its director, Yuan Zhiming, came on TV for the first time in order to deny the allegations, saying “we know what kind of research is gong at the institute and how the institute manages viruses and samples. There is no way that virus came from us.”
“This is entirely based on speculation. Part of the purpose is to confuse people and interfere with our anti-epidemic and scientific activities. They may have achieved their goal in some way but as a scientist and science and technology manager, I know it is impossible,” he said, adding that it was impossible for the virus to be man-made.
However, scientific research so far has suggested that there is little chance the virus was bio-engineered. A study published in Nature Medicine concluded that SARS-CoV-2 was not a “laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” on the basis that certain aspects of the virus were too efficient to be designed by humans, even as some aspects of its mutation suggest that it was not deliberately designed since they don’t allow the virus to bind too easily with human cells—a design flaw that would have been corrected had the virus been manufactured.