More than 50 million people in China are practically quarantined because a deadly new virus has suddenly erupted in Wuhan.
The disease is said to have originated in a meat market in Wuhan and spread rapidly to other areas of China, then to Japan, Thailand, South Korea and the United States. Suspicious cases have also been reported in Australia and Scotland. However, it is possible that there is more information behind the story, as Chinese authorities have carried out a censorship campaign to prevent the spread of information about the virus that differs from official statements. A very curious coincidence in the development of this outbreak is the fact that a new biological laboratory was recently opened in Wuhan, where the disease is believed to have originated, to study the most dangerous pathogens in the world.
As early as 2017, shortly before the laboratory experiments began, the renowned scientific journal Nature published an article expressing concerns about pathogens believed to have escaped from Wuhan’s new laboratory. The laboratory is a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) facility, which is the highest level of biosafety. BSL-4 facilities must meet strict standards for decontamination of the area and workers after each experiment. However, BSL-4’s laboratories remain highly controversial, as critics argue that these measures may not be sufficient to prevent a virus from escaping. According to Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, the SARS virus has repeatedly escaped high-level security facilities in Beijing.
In May 2019, less than a year before the outbreak began, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a press release, providing an overview of the projects the new laboratory is working on. Projects included SARS, Ebola, hemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever, avian influenza A (H5N1), Rift Valley fever and others. Scientists studied the genetic code of the new virus and found that it is more related to SARS than any other human coronavirus. In BSL-4 labs, researchers can optimize or combine deadly viruses to produce mutated strains of the original disease. A Nature report in 2013 showed that scientists in China were producing hybrid viruses in laboratories.
“A team of scientists in China created hybrid viruses by mixing genes from the H5N1 and the H1N1 strain behind the swine flu epidemic in 2009 and showed that some of the hybrids can spread in the air among guinea pigs,” the article revealed. The results of the hybrid virus experiment were published in the journal Science.
Such experiments are generally designed to provide scientists with more knowledge about certain diseases, so that they can be better treated and prevented. Another study was concerned with deliberately making certain viruses even more lethal than they already were. Regardless of the motivation, even in the safest environments, exposure of people to these pathogens can represent a significant risk, mainly because infections originated in the past in supposedly safe laboratories.