Jamie Metzl, a member of the World Health Organization’s International Advisory Committee on Human Genome Editing, has speculated that the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.
“When they have outbreaks in China, the zoonotic jump [of the virus from animal to humans] tends to happen in the south in Guangdong or Yunnan Province, and not in Wuhan or in Hubei Province,” Metzl told National Review. “They have the only level-4 virology lab in China, which happens to be in Wuhan and was studying dangerous coronaviruses.”
That lab is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, situated about nine miles from the seafood market where the coronavirus was initially thought to have originated.
Metzl continued, “It seems kind of likely that [if] you have a Chinese lab studying a dangerous virus, and you have a very similar virus that leaps out right next to one of the labs, you could logically…put two and two together.”
Metzl said he has considered this theory a possibility since January, “from the very beginning when I heard this news story.”
The first U.S. politician to point out the proximity of the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the outbreak’s epicenter was Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.).
“China claimed—for almost two months—that coronavirus had originated in a Wuhan seafood market. That is not the case,” Cotton wrote on Twitter on January 30. The senator uploaded a video in which he noted the proximity of the lab.
While initially dismissed as a conspiracy theory, suspicion has grown amongst U.S. officials that circumstantial evidence points to an accidental leak. President Trump and other officials have called for investigations into a possible Chinese cover up of the outbreak’s origins, and Trump has halted funding to the WHO over what he described as the organization’s “gross mismanagement” of the pandemic. U.S. politicians, particularly congressional Republicans, have also accused the WHO of parroting Chinese misinformation in the early stages of the pandemic.
Metzl said the WHO could have been more skeptical of the information coming from China in late December and early January, but on the whole defended the organization’s handling of the pandemic, saying his colleagues are “driven by doing the right thing and following the evidence.” However, Metzl slammed the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.
“The Trump administration’s response to the pandemic has been among the greatest leadership failures in all of American history,” Metzl said. “Not only did they feel to heed the warnings, not only did they completely screw up the testing, but the president of the United States was actively spewing deadly misinformation to the American people and denying this crisis as it was playing out.”
China has so far refused to allow representatives from the WHO to join an investigation into the coronavirus’s origins.
The coronavirus has infected over 1,000,000 Americans and killed over 64,000 as of Friday. Social distancing measures and business closures implemented to mitigate the spread of coronavirus have caused widespread damage to the U.S. economy and put roughly 30 million Americans out of work.