Did COVID Come From a Lab Redux?

Edit 5/27/2021. The Wuhan Institute was incorrectly stated as Biosafety Level 3, BSL-3.  It is BSL-4, certified by China’s domestic authority.

Two  questions: Did COVID Come From a Lab, followed by Did China willfully conceal the initial spread from the international community?

(CNN) Why scientists are suddenly more interested in the lab-leak theory of Covid’s origin. Because, quoting   (original is WSJ exclusive),

A US intelligence report found that several researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized, a new detail about the severity of their symptoms…

and (CNN) Chinese state media is turning on Fauci amid Wuhan lab controversy. because Fauci took note of it.

In April 2020, I wrote Did COVID-19 Come from a Lab? Nothing changed the undecidable nature of the question, until the WSJ report.  If it was COVID-19, a lab leak would be plausible.

Quoting (CNN) Chinese state media…,

An adviser for the World Health Organization, Jamie Metzl, said the lab-leak theory is possible while scientists were “poking and prodding and studying” viruses with the good intention of developing vaccines.

This is the closest the news has come to the nut of what matters: intent. If the intent had been to weaponize COVID, it would be as  wicked as anything the Russian GRU could dream up. But what if the intent had been academic or preventative?

  • Have 3.49 million died because some ignorant farmer inoculated himself handling live produce for a wet market?
  • Or because some careless academic opened an unsterilized glove box?
  • Or did a researcher from the Wuhan Institute visit the wet market to obtain live produce samples, become infected at the market, infecting other workers by personal contact?
  • For every zoonosis that jumps to humans, there is an index case.  Should the index case be held legally liable, like Typhoid Mary?
  • Is it force majeure? Is it negligence, or criminal negligence? By who, farmer,  careless technician, local government, or national?

This is straight-up religion, Good versus Evil,  bastardized for political capital, the search for the guilty, an urge to distinguish between force majeure, and negligence-by-people-who-should-know-better. There is no sharp distinction. Since punishment is out of the question, what would a guilty verdict mean?

Nothing, unless weaponization was intended. Circumstances do not support this:

  • The original Wuhan strain is a wild, unmodified virus, not optimal for weaponization. Since then, random mutations have increased value as a bio-weapon. This happened mostly in the U.K. South Africa, and Brazil.
  • The Wuhan Institute is a BSL-3 facility. To handle bio-weapons with reasonable safety, BSL-4 is required.  China knows this. (Edit 5/27/2021. The Wuhan Institute was incorrectly stated as Biosafety Level 3, BSL-3.  It is BSL-4, certified by China’s domestic authority.)

So the lab question is a quest for moral capital, which has doubtful utilities:

  • Conversion  to an asset of diplomacy.
  • An unenforceable judgment, as in, “pay up.”
  • A feel good moment for declining nations.

China is a profound challenge to the Westphalian system of  Henry Kissinger’s World Order. Let’s not trivialize with valueless feel-good arguments. Quoting from Did COVID-19 Come from a Lab?,

The politicization of a question that cannot have a definite answer is the use of animus to influence trade policy. Bad vibes can be reciprocated. Trade, human rights, and geopolitics have their own legitimacies. They don’t need help from plague-inspired hate.

Second Question. Did China willfully conceal the initial spread from the international community? The 2011 (Wikipedia) Wenzhou train collision is instructive. Quoting,

Officials responded to the accident by hastily concluding rescue operations and ordering the burial of the derailed cars. These actions elicited strong criticism from Chinese media and online communities. In response, the government issued directives to restrict media coverage, which was met with limited compliance, even on state-owned networks.

They buried the evidence. Here, we bury bodies. In China, they bury whole rail cars. Substitute “COVID-19” for “derailed cars” and the meaning becomes clear. Politicians everywhere try to bury problems. Contemporary open source coverage indicated that when the epidemic was accurately reported to the national government, transparency (mostly) replaced concealment. (This may, of course, be contradicted by clandestine intelligence. I am unaware of any leakage to the degree of the WSJ report.)

The response of the Wenzhou incident implies an ingrained pattern of domestic China civil service that carried over to the COVID concealment, an artifact of their local domestic politics, with international concealment as a side effect. Much later, dating to the first “from a lab” accusations, it became a diplomatic football.

Readers in the U.S. have had a close-up  COVID view of domestic concealment, incompetence, politicization, and delusional thinking. Isn’t it a little hard to criticize China’s civil service for the same?  We’ve buried our share of truth.

From Did COVID-19 Come from a Lab? ,

We got caught with our pants down. The blame should start here, and it should stop here.