A group of 27 prominent public health scientists from outside China, who have studied SARS-CoV-2 and “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife” just like many other viruses that have recently emerged in humans, is pushing back against a steady stream of stories and even a scientific paper suggesting a laboratory in Wuhan, China, may be the origin of the outbreak of COVID-19. “The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumors and misinformation around its origins,” the scientists, from nine countries, write in a statement published online by The Lancet .
Many posts on social media have singled out the Wuhan Institute of Virology for intense scrutiny because it has a laboratory at the highest security level – biosafety level 4 – and its researchers study coronaviruses from bats; speculations have included the possibility that the virus was bioengineered in the lab or that a lab worker was infected while handling a bat. Researchers from the institute have insisted there is no link between the outbreak and their laboratory. Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance and a cosignatory of the statement, has collaborated with researchers at the Wuhan institute who study bat coronaviruses. “We’re in the midst of the social media misinformation age, and these rumors and conspiracy theories have real consequences, including threats of violence that have occurred to our colleagues in China.”