US officials in 2018 issued several warnings about a research lab in Wuhan, China, saying it had inadequate safety measures while conducting risky studies on bat coronaviruses, the very type of virus that has upended the world in 2020, the Washington Post reported Tuesday (April 14).
The revelations strengthen speculation that the novel coronavirus COVID-19 did not come from a wet market, as Chinese authorities assert at times, but rather from a government-funded lab.
The US Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending top science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in 2018. WIV at the time issued a news release in English about these visits but last week removed them from its website, the report said.
The messages from US State Department officials warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help, with specific concern over the "lab's work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission" and how it represented "a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic".
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic originated in China in late 2002 and caused more than 8,000 cases worldwide in 2003.
"During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory," warned one of the 2018 messages.
There is no strong evidence that the virus was engineered, as some conspiracists allege; scientists largely agree it came from animals.
Just because it came from animals, however, does not discount that the virus could have come from the WIV lab, which spent years testing bat coronaviruses in animals, said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.
It is unclear whether the novel coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab, but the concerns about the lab are very real, he told the Washington Post.
"I don't think it's a conspiracy theory. I think it's a legitimate question that needs to be investigated and answered," he said. "To understand exactly how this originated is critical knowledge for preventing this from happening in the future."
Beijing for months has attempted to deflect blame for the coronavirus pandemic by spreading conspiracy theories.
After officials realised that the virus that originated in China was wreaking untold global havoc, the Chinese disinformation machine began working.
The European Union, NATO, and the G7 have all come out against the Chinese regime for continuing to spread damaging disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, endangering lives worldwide and undermining democratic societies.
International concern is also growing about the accuracy of the information coming from Chinese officials, who now claim there are no new cases of the virus in Wuhan, where the virus originated.
If Chinese officials had been transparent about the novel coronavirus at the beginning, the world would be in a much better position right now to battle COVID-19, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading figure in the world's efforts to defeat the pandemic.
Now China is attempting to appear as a benevolent power amid the crisis, exporting medical equipment all around the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
However, a growing number of nations are complaining about substandard or faulty medical products, while Beijing earns millions from their sale.