Conspiracy or Credible Theory?: Scientists Revisit the Wuhan Lab Leak Theory

July 11, 2021

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

US intelligence agencies are revisiting the Wuhan lab leak theory after 18 prominent scientists signed a letter published in the Science Journal calling for a more transparent investigation into COVID-19’s origins. 

What does this mean?

The Wuhan lab leak theory is once again gaining traction around the world due to the support of academics and public officials. This theory regained life after Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci’s emails were leaked, where he expressed his dissatisfaction with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) preliminary investigation. This investigation was conducted in January 2021, but the WHO investigative team were subject to heavy restrictions which prevented full access to data on over 170 early cases. On top of this, researchers were only given three hours in the Wuhan lab, subsequently reducing the investigations’ full potential. 

Whilst there are some circumstantial links between Wuhan and the origins of COVID-19, most scientists still believe the virus is zoonotic (animal to human transmission). However, Wuhan is home to one of two virus institutes in China with BLS-4 level security clearance which enabled the institute to deal with the most serious strains of viruses. Additionally, the Wuhan Institute of Virology was conducting controversial ‘gain of function’ experiments that increase a virus’ virology to better understand how they evolve. Despite these links, scientists are still confident that COVID-19 spilt over from animals to humans, but Fillipa Lentzos, an expert in biological threats, argues the WHO mission should have “probed deeper”.

What's the big picture effect?

From a legal perspective, it is hard to determine what this theory, if proved, would mean. It would certainly be hard to prosecute China for a lack of care under tortious law, as China is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, thus preventing litigation in the International Criminal Court. Regardless, a lab leak must be characterised as an accident that should not be ferociously prosecuted. If this cause of action was pursued it would create a dangerous international precedent that could stifle virus innovation. A more pragmatic approach would be to conduct a more intrusive investigation into COVID-19’s origins, using regulatory reform to improve safety standards so that future lab leaks are prevented

Blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to produce any positive solutions. As history has shown with the Iraq invasion on the basis of the ‘dodgy dossier’, unsubstantiated allegations can have disastrous effects. Therefore, there is a real necessity for corroborated and evidence-backed claims, which further emphasizes the need for a more transparent investigation. Importantly, conglomerate tech firms like Facebook, should not be allowed to label potentially credible claims like the lab leak theory as ‘misinformation’. Such censorship will only further narrow society’s attention onto a singular line of inquiry, limiting our ability to evaluate and consider other plausible theories. 

On the whole, the lab leak theory has re-entered the public consciousness as scientists and public officials have voiced their dissatisfaction with the WHO’s investigation. Whilst China cannot be blamed or legally punished for a lab leak accident, this does not detract from the importance of finding COVID-19’s true origins. Finding this information will allow us to better understand viruses and help us to prepare for future pandemics, meaning the importance of a more robust and thorough investigation can hardly be understated. 

Report written by Luke Cuthbert

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