But one of the labs cited in the paper, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, issued a statement on February 19 that strongly rejected any suggestion that the virus originated from its lab.
The statement said the theory that the virus leaked from the lab was one of the false rumors that had “great damaged our frontline researchers and seriously disrupted our urgent scientific research.” Other rumors it rejected include “virus was man-made,” “Patient Zero came from the institute” and “Chinese military took control of the institute.”
Officials in the Chinese government say the source of the virus remains unknown, and that others should stop “smearing” the country.
“As a matter of fact, the source of Covid-19 is a scientific issue,” Luo Zhaohui, a vice minister of foreign affairs, said in late March. “We need to listen to professional and scientific opinions. The WHO has stressed many times that linking viruses to specific races, skin colors or geographical areas should be avoided. This is also the international consensus.”
Other researchers contacted by CNN were skeptical of the lab accident theory.
“I think it has no credibility,” said Racaniello, who hosts a podcast called “This Week in Virology.”
“I think it’s part of human nature to think that we’re doing the worst things, as opposed to nature.”
Anthony, who had not heard about the paper when reached Friday, said “it all feels far-fetched.”
“Lab accidents do happen, we know that, but … there’s certainly no evidence to support that theory,” he said.
Meanwhile, tensions between the US and China over the origins of the virus — compounded by accusations of misinformation from both sides — are slowing the work of the virus hunters, who are grounded by the same travel restrictions that have crippled the world.
“If there was a so-called intermediate host, an animal that the bat virus got into and then allowed it to get into people, the virus might still be in that host,” said Daszak, the virus hunter working in China. “And there are hundreds, thousands of these animals and farms and maybe the virus is still there. So even if we get rid of the outbreak, there’s still a chance that that virus could then re-emerge and we need to find that out quickly.”