A comprehensive summary of facts about the origin of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
Executive summary: The currently available evidence supports a lab-related origin of the novel coronavirus. The phylogenetic evidence links SARS-CoV-2 to a 2012 covid-like pneumonia incident in a Chinese mine near Mojiang. The virus samples of this incident were collected, stored and investigated by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). However, some US labs may also have had access to this data, as they were collaborating with the Wuhan lab in the field of coronavirus research. At the genetic level, the existence of a furin cleavage site involving a CGG-coded double arginine codon may indicate genetic engineering. The search for an intermediate animal host has so far remained unsuccessful, but a natural origin cannot yet be ruled out entirely.
A. Previous pandemics and epidemics
- The two most recent (mild) global pandemics were the 1977 ‘Russian flu’ and the 2009 ‘swine flu’. In both of these cases, modern genetic research indicates that a lab escape was the most likely origin of the pandemic virus (see here and here). Yet in both cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) initially excluded this possibility (see here and here).
- The origin of the first SARS coronavirus in 2002 remains unknown, but a natural origin is generally assumed. However, since the discovery of SARS-1, at least four lab escapes of the virus from P3 and P4 high-security labs in Singapore, Taiwan and China have been documented.
- Concerned scientists have repeatedly warned of the risks involved in so-called “gain-of-function” virus research, which seeks to enhance the virulence or infectiousness of viruses through genetic engineering and other methods.
B. The Mojiang miners and the Wuhan Institute of Virology
- In February 2020, it became known that a bat virus called RaTG13, collected by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in 2013, was the closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2.
- In May 2020, it became known that RaTG13, previously known as BtCoV/4991, had been found in bat feces in a mineshaft near Mojiang in southwest China, after six miners fell ill with SARS-like pneumonia and three of them eventually died. At the time, the WIV received tissue and blood samples of the surviving and dead miners.
- The WIV itself didn’t disclose this link, however. Rather, in a March 2020 interview, the famous WIV “bat woman” Shi Zhengli falsely claimed that “a fungus” had caused the miners’ illness.
- It was only through a leaked Chinese medical dissertation that the link between the Mojiang miners, their SARS-like pneumonia, and the WIV lab became known. Of note, this medical dissertation was later removed from public access by Chinese authorities.
- Moreover, the WIV claimed that they hadn’t investigated the RaTG13 virus until after the outbreak of the pandemic (to compare it to Sars-CoV-2), but genetic database records later showed that the WIV had in fact investigated RaTG13 as of 2017 or 2018.
- Archived Chinese database entries showed that the origin of RaTG13 had been changed from “lung fluid” (from the miners) to “bat feces” in July 2020 without any explanation. In addition, the WIV claimed that the RaTG13 sample had “disintegrated” during their analyses and was no longer available, and thus no longer verifiable.
- Back in 2012/2013, the sick Mojiang miners were hospitalized for up to four months before being either discharged or dying. During this time, the lungs of the miners may have served as a kind of “human incubator”, possibly allowing the bat coronavirus to adapt to human cells much faster than would have been possible in the wild.
- The WIV is known to have infected “humanized mice” with bat coronaviruses, and there is video footage of insufficiently protected WIV employees being bitten by bats.
- WIV scientists studied bat coronaviruses not in a high-safety BSL-4 lab, but in BSL-2 and BSL-3 labs. The safety level of a BSL-2 lab is comparable to a dentist’s office.
- In September 2019, the WIV deleted a large genetic database containing information on their collection of cross-species bat coronaviruses.
- In December 2020, a group of BBC journalists tried to visit the Mojiang mine area in China’s south-western province of Yunnan, but was blocked by Chinese police and security forces. Other Western journalists were also blocked from accessing the area.
- In May 2021, three new Chinese medical dissertations were retrieved by independent researchers, which revealed that the WIV retained and studied several additional, but unpublished coronaviruses from the Mojiang mine very closely related to RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2.
C. The initial covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan
- According to a leaked Chinese investigation report, the first suspected covid-19 patients were admitted to Wuhan hospitals already in October of 2019. According to local Chinese press reports, SARS-CoV-2 was already circulating by November 2019.
- In September 2019, an inspection and review of virus samples at the WIV took place.
- On 12 September 2019, the WIV deleted its cross-species viral pathogen database.
- The theory that the initial outbreak had occurred at the Wuhan wet market turned out to be false, as most of the first infections had no connection to the wet market.
- To this day, no potential wild animal source of SARS-CoV-2 has been identified.
- In late 2019 or early 2020, the profile and photo of WIV employee Huang Yanling was deleted from the WIV website. The WIV later claimed that Huang Yanling hadn’t worked at the WIV since 2015; however, a photo of 2018 surfaced showing her together with the WIV team. Since late 2019, Huang Yanling seems to have disappeared. The US government argued that Huang Yanling may have been “covid patient zero” at the WIV.
- In March 2021, a member of the WHO team tasked with investigating the virus origin admitted to NBC News that some employees of the WIV had shown flu-like symptoms in autumn 2019, prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. The WIV claimed that by March 2020, none of its employees had antibodies to Sars-CoV-2, but even if true, this may well be due to antibody waning.
D. Genetic peculiarities of SARS-CoV-2
- The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus features a so-called furin cleavage site (FCS), which makes the virus more infectious and virulent than it would otherwise be. Such an FCS is not known in any other SARS-like coronavirus, but it is often inserted as part of gain-of-function studies in virus research. However, similar FCS are known to occur in non-SARS-like coronaviruses, hence a natural origin cannot be excluded based on this.
- The furin cleavage site found in SARS-CoV-2 uses an arginine (amino acid) double codon, which is rather rare in in natural coronaviruses, but is quite common in engineered viruses used in lab experiments with humanized mice.
- David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of CalTech, said the following about the furin cleavage site: “When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus. () These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2.”
- SARS-CoV-2 is exceedingly well adapted to human ACE2 cell receptors, is highly transmissible from human to human, and has remained remarkably stable since its first detection. All of these attributes would be very surprising if the virus had indeed jumped from an animal to a human for the first time in autumn 2019.
- Renowned US coronavirus researcher Ralph Baric explained in an interview on the origin of SARS-CoV-2: “You can engineer a virus without leaving any trace. However, the answers you are looking for can only be found in the archives of the Wuhan laboratory.”
- In March 2021, Russian-Canadian geneticist Yuri Deigin argued that the furin cleavage site found in SARS-CoV-2 may indicate that the virus was used, as an attenuated virus, in the context of coronavirus vaccine research. Another genticist argued that SARS-CoV-2 is the first known beta-coronavirus that can be vaccinated against.
E. US links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology
- In addition to the WIV, the US military, the US CDC and US universities have also done research on SARS-like bat coronaviruses, including gain-of-function research.
- In 2014, some of the US research was halted for safety concerns and moved to the WIV in China. Thus, some of the high-risk coronavirus research at the WIV was financed by US institutions, including, notably, the US NIAID led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
- In addition, a US NGO called “Ecohealth Alliance” worked with US institutions, the US military, and the Chinese WIV, collecting and investigating SARS-like bat coronaviruses to “prevent the next pandemic”. Ecohealth Alliance is led by Dr. Peter Daszak.
- In November 2019, before the novel coronavirus become publicly known, Peter Daszak openly stated that Ecohealth Alliance and the WIV were doing the type of research that could create viruses like SARS-CoV-2.
- Although not widely known, the US military is the largest sponsor of Ecohealth Alliance.
F. The official “investigation” into the origin of SARS-CoV-2
- There are two “official” groups tasked with investigating the origin of SARS-CoV-2: a group assembled by the WHO and a group assembled by the science journal The Lancet.
- The Lancet Covid-19 Commission chose Ecohealth Alliance president Peter Daszak to lead the SARS-CoV-2 origin investigation. Although clearly not impartial, Daszak is also a member of the WHO virus origin investigation team, which had to be approved by China.
- Moreover, a FOIA request revealed that early scientific letters claiming that a lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 was “extremely unlikely” or a “conspiracy theory” were in fact coordinated behind the scenes by none other than Ecohealth Alliance president Peter Daszak.
- Another FOIA request revealed that leading virologists like Ralph Baric were well aware that a lab escape is a very real possibility, but didn’t want to discuss this publicly. Molecular biologist professor Richard Ebright called the WHO mission “a charade”.
- In March 2021, former US CDC director Robert Redfield said that he believed SARS-CoV-2 came from the WIV lab: ““I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and, at that moment in time, the virus () became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission.”
- Also in March 2021, a group of researchers demanded a transparent and thorough investigation in an open letter published by several newspapers.
G. Additional aspects
- In October 2019, a one-day coronavirus pandemic simulation called Event 201 was held in New York. The event was organized by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and was sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Based on the above timeline, Event 201 may have been held about one month after the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, but about two months before the first public notice about the new virus. In June 2001, Johns Hopkins University had organized a similar simulation of anthrax bio-attacks, about three months before the actual anthrax letter attacks occurred after September 11. The US government tried to blame these anthrax letters on Iraq, but the anthrax spores were later traced back to a US military biolab. The FBI accused two US military scientists, but never found the real perpetrators.
- Also in October 2019, the Military World Games were held in Wuhan, at which several participants contracted a covid-like disease, according to later reports. China argued that SARS-CoV-2 may have been imported to Wuhan by a participant of the military games.
- In July 2019, the US biodefense facility at Fort Detrick was closed over “safety concerns”.
- Also in July 2019, a Chinese scientist and her team were removed by Canadian police from Canada’s only P4 high-security lab over an undisclosed ‘policy breach’. In 2018 and 2019, the Chinese scientist was sending highly dangerous Ebola and Henipa viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was performing research in cooperation with the Canadian lab.
- In the summer and autumn of 2019, the US experienced a somewhat mysterious “vaping lung disease” (later termed EVALI) in mostly young adults, with symptoms quite similar to covid-19. However, EVALI has never been reported to be infectious.
- A few studies claimed to have found SARS-CoV-2 PCR samples outside of China dating back to autumn or even summer 2019, but these were individual cases that couldn’t be confirmed and that may have been due to contamination or false-positive test results.
- In late January 2020, videos claiming to show “coronavirus-infected people collapsing in the streets of Wuhan” appeared online, but their origin remains dubious.
- In June 2020, US evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein argued that if someone wanted to “make it look like” a lab leak, Wuhan would have been the ideal place to release the virus to “hide their tracks”. For some US labs, it would have been rather easy to engineer a coronavirus that looks like a WIV lab leak, as they had extensive access to WIV viral databases.
Annex 1: Scientific papers
- Lab-Made? SARS-CoV-2 Genealogy Through the Lens of Gain-of-Function Research (Deigin, Medium, April 2020)
- Might SARS‐CoV‐2 Have Arisen via Serial Passage through an Animal Host or Cell Culture? (Sirotkin and Sirotkin, Bioessays, August 2020)
- Did a Review of Samples Collected from a Mineshaft Cause the COVID-19 Pandemic? (Anonymous, Zenodo, September 2020)
- Lethal Pneumonia Cases in Mojiang miners (2012) and the mine could provide important clues to the origin of SARS-CoV-2 (Rahalkar and Bahulikar, FPubH, October 2020)
- Should we discount the laboratory origin of COVID-19? (Segreto et al., ECL, March 2021)
- The genetic structure of SARS‐CoV‐2 does not rule out a laboratory origin (Segreto and Deigin, Bioessays, November 2020)
- An investigation into the WIV databases that were taken offline (Demaneuf et al., Feb. 2021)
- SARS-CoV-2′s claimed natural origin is undermined by issues with genome sequences of its relative strains (Deigin & Segreto, BioEssays, May 2021)
Annex 2: Selected press articles
- From 2014: A New Killer Virus in China? (Science Magazine, March 2014)
- How China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus (Scientific American, March 2020)
- Dr. Fauci Backed Controversial Wuhan Lab with U.S. Dollars for Risky Coronavirus Research (Newsweek, April 2020)
- Pentagon biolab discovered MERS and SARS-like coronaviruses in bats (Arms Watch, April 2020)
- Seven year coronavirus trail from mine deaths to a Wuhan lab (London Times, July 2020)
- Did the Covid-19 virus really escape from a Wuhan lab? (The Telegraph, February 2021)
Annex 3: The DRASTIC online research group
The connection between SARS-CoV-2, RaTG13, the Mojiang mine and the WIV was first discovered by members of an informal online research group called DRASTIC. In particular, members of this group first discovered the Chinese medical dissertation linking the WIV to the hushed-up 2012 SARS-like incident in a Mojiang mine, caused by RaTG13 or a similar SARS-like coronavirus.
- How the coronavirus origin story is being rewritten by a guerrilla Twitter group (cnet, 04/21)
- How Amateur Sleuths Broke the Wuhan Lab Story and Embarrassed the Media (Newsweek, 06/21)