Covid-19 was not from a lab

Dr. Angela Rasmussen, University of Saskatchewan, David Stobbe photo

A group of eighteen health scientists, including Dr. Angela Rasmussen from the University of Saskatchewan, have published two peer-reviewed studies which conclude that the COVID-19 epidemic began in the Huanan market in the city of Wuhan, China where the virus spread from live animals to humans.

No ordinary news

This may sound like ordinary news, but it puts the scientific boot to a campaign of vulgar disinformation. I wrote about this in March 2020 after a friend (on the left) sent me links saying that the virus came from a lab in the U.S. and spread by American soldiers traveling to China for athletic games. This false accusation circulated widely on Chinese state media and among some actors in the West.

For its part, the U.S. government of the day and its dodgy friends in the right-wing media sphere were peddling the theory that the virus originated in a medical lab in Wuhan, accidentally, but possibly in a deliberate, malicious act by the Chinese Communist Party.

Market in Wuhan

Dr. Michael Worobey led the first of the recent peer-reviewed studies. He is a Canadian who heads the University of Arizona department of ecology and evolutionary biology. The study analyzed the locations where COVID-19 cases occurred within the city of Wuhan, population eleven million, in the first month of the outbreak in December 2019. Those cases, the study found, clustered tightly around the Huanan market.

Dr. Worobey described it this way In a University of Arizona news release: “In a city covering more than 3,000 square miles, the area with the highest probability of containing the home of someone who had one of the earliest COVID-19 cases in the world was an area of a few city blocks, with the Huanan market smack dab inside it.”

The authors also looked in Wuhan for what they called the “geographical distribution” of COVID cases among people hospitalized with the virus later, in January and February 2020. They found that those cases coincided with the areas of greatest population density in the city. Dr. Worobey said, “It really originated at that market and spread out from there.” 

Swab samples

As described in the university’s news release, the study also looked at swab samples taken from market surfaces, like floors and cages, after the shuttering of the Huanan market. The resulting detailed map showed that positive samples of the virus reported by Chinese researchers in early 2020 showed a clear association with stalls in the western portion of the market, where live or freshly butchered animals were sold in late 2019. Those animals included red foxes, hog badgers and raccoon dogs.

Dr. Kristian Andersen was a co-author and is a professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research in San Diego, California. She concluded that “our analyses of available evidence clearly suggest that the pandemic arose from initial human infections from animals for sale at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late November 2019.”

Genomic data

The second study, also published in the academic journal Science, analyzed genomic data (DNA genetic material) from people who contracted early cases. According to the university news release, the research scientists concluded that “COVID-19 originated via jumps from animals to humans at the Huanan market, likely following transmission to those animals from coronavirus-carrying bats in the wild or on farms in China.”

Blunt article

Both scientific studies discreetly avoided any criticism of the Chinese or American governments for their claims and counter claims about the initial spread of the virus. An article in the Globe and Mail on July 30, 2022, was blunter in its assessment. It was written by Dr. Worobey and Dr. Angela Rasmussen. The article may be inaccessible behind the Globe’s pay wall, but here is what they wrote: “Our report should put to rest the hypothesis that the SARS-Cov-2 emerged from a laboratory.” The virus emerged in the Huanan market, and it was linked to the trade in live wildlife.”

They added, “Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t understand the science or doesn’t want you to understand it.”

Take the time      

Scientific scholarship is, precise, slow, and understated, compared to the speed and reckless hyperbole of propagandists, who by now have moved on to other distortions and fabrications. Yet it is well worth investing a bit of time and mental effort to understand the truth about a pandemic which has claimed more than six million lives and caused so much disruption.

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