Special Note: This article was published in early 2020 during the earliest days of the Coronavirus pandemic.
As the deadly Wuhan Virus (aka Novel coronavirus, NCP, SARS-CoV-2 virus, COVID-19 disease, or 2019-nCoV) spreads across the planet, the world is applauding China for its handling of the viral outbreak. Railroads in China have been shut down, flights canceled, and the city of Wuhan locked down in one of the largest quarantines in history. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities search for the “super spreader” responsible for the outbreak while the media ignores the obvious – Wuhan is home to one of the world’s most deadly virus laboratories, one that specializes in coronaviruses like COVID-19.
China’s Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory/Wuhan Institute of Virology
China’s Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was opened in 2017 despite scientists’ concerns that pathogens could escape the facility and spread rapidly through the city’s massive population of 11 million people. It is a Level 4 facility, the highest biocontainment range and most critical biosafety level possible. BSL-4 (P4) facilities study class four pathogens, the most virulent viruses that pose a high risk of airborne transmission. Dangers are inherent in their work, security is high, and as history has demonstrated, mistakes are not unheard of.
The Wuhan coronavirus
The Wuhan Virus, or more accurately, COVID-19, is a coronavirus (2019-nCoV or SARS-C0V-2), closely related to (or mutated from) SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). The virus spreads easily and fast. In one instance, 14 well-protected doctors and nurses were infected after operating on a patient that unknowingly carried the virus.
Where did Wuhan Virus originate?
Thus far, Chinese scientists are suggesting the virus jumped from animal to human – possibly from a snake, bat, or seafood sold in the Wuhan open markets. However, what has not been freely talked about is the area of study the nearby Wuhan National Biosafety laboratory specializes in – SARS and MERS viruses – the same family of viruses COVID-19 is believed to have evolved from.
Would China cover up a virus outbreak of its own making? History says “yes”. In 2002, China experienced a SARS outbreak that it not only concealed from the outside world but from its own people. Newspapers were forbidden to report the outbreak and outsiders were told to keep quiet. It took years before the world discovered the origin of the SARS outbreak.
But do viruses (manufactured or otherwise) ever escape from these ultra-secure labs?
Level 4 labs are protective-suit laboratories where all work is done “under a cabinet”. Airflow in the labs is tightly controlled with airlocks to minimize the possibility of aerosols leaking from the lab. All lab waste is decontaminated before leaving the facility. Any material leaving the cabinet must be decontaminated and the cabinets themselves are seamless, free of sharp edges that could damage protective clothing. Protective suits are positive pressurized and personnel must pass through a chemical shower for decontamination before removing the suit, then follow up with a personal shower. Entry into the facility is restricted to trained and authorized personnel only. The security and safety measures employed in Level 4 laboratories are extremely high, yet viruses still have been known to escape the secure setting.
Viruses escaping a laboratory setting are not uncommon, especially in China. According to Nature Magazine, the SARS virus has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times since it opened. In a society where citizens are discouraged from speaking out, mistakes such as the Beijing viral incident, go unspoken and unreported.