Jamie Metzl has an enormously important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today.
If the virus jumped to humans through a series of human-animal encounters in the wild or in wet markets, as Beijing has claimed, we would likely have seen evidence of people being infected elsewhere in China before the Wuhan outbreak. We have not.
The alternative explanation, a lab escape, is far more plausible. We know the Wuhan Institute of Virology was using controversial “gain of function” techniques to make viruses more virulent for research purposes. A confidential 2018 State Department cable released this month highlighting the lab’s alarming safety record should heighten our concern.
Suggesting that an outbreak of a deadly bat coronavirus coincidentally occurred near the only level 4 virology institute in all of China — which happened to be studying the closest known relative of that exact virus — strains credulity.
Metzl notes that the Chinese government is attempting to avoid any serious investigation, with president Xi Jinping contending that investigations into the origin should be delayed until after the pandemic is contained. Metzl argues that an international investigation must include full access to all of the scientists, biological samples, laboratory records, and other materials, and that “denying that access should be considered an admission of guilt by Beijing.”
You may not have heard of Jamie Metzl, but he’s not just some schmo. He’s got the kind of sterling résumé that glows in the U.S. foreign-policy world — “deputy staff director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Senator Joe Biden, senior coordinator for International Public Information at the Department of State, and director for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs on the White House National Security Council.” What’s more, he frequently writes about genetics and bioengineering. In 2004, Metzl ran for Congress as a Democrat.
We don’t know with absolute certainty that this pandemic started with some sort of accident at a lab in Wuhan. But the non-lab explanation most frequently cited since the outbreak, that the virus can be traced back to some animal consumed at the Huanan Seafood Market, is now inoperable. Not even the Chinese government is contending the outbreak started there anymore, raising the question of why certain American journalists are still echoing an exculpatory explanation that not even Beijing believes is plausible anymore.