April 16, 2020 | 1: 58pm | Updated April 16, 2020 | 3: 30pm
New evidence has emerged that the coronavirus ravaging the globe may have escaped from a poorly equipped lab in Wuhan, China, where researchers were conducting risky viral disease experiments in the years leading up to the pandemic.
In March 2018, the US dispatched science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, who issued two “sensitive” diplomatic cables about inadequate safety measures at the lab, the Washington Post reported, citing intelligence sources.
The first cable warned the experiments conducted in the lab on coronavirus in bats “represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic,” according to the report.
The cable, written by two US-China embassy officials, said there is a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” according to the report.
The Wuhan lab was receiving aid from US organizations, including a laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, but the cable suggested the US should provide additional support because the research was so dangerous.
The cables were meant to “sound the alarm” about safety conditions in the lab — and the embassy officials were calling for more support of the lab to help fix its problems, sources told the newspaper.
There’s no evidence to suggest the coronavirus currently cutting its way across the globe was engineered in a lab — but that does not exclude the possibility it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or another similar laboratory miles away in the Chinese city.
President Trump was asked about the possibility at the White House press briefing Wednesday and said the US was investigating the origins.
“More and more we’re hearing the story … we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation,” he said.
Fox News on Wednesday said administration officials believe with “increasing confidence” that the outbreak was caused by an experiment in a Wuhan laboratory.
The sources who spoke to Fox News said there was likely a “patient zero” who worked in the laboratory and was infected there, only to leave and spread it in the city’s population.
One thing that’s clear, sources told the news channel, is that there is a concerted effort among Chinese officials to cover up any suggestion the virus somehow escaped from a lab.
Officials in the country pointed to a wet market as the supposed ground zero of the outbreak — but sources told Fox the market never sold bats. It was likely to deflect blame from the laboratories in Wuhan, sources told Fox.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on the network Wednesday night that the US is working to connect the dots.
“What we do know is we know that this virus originated in Wuhan, China. We know there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was,” he said.
“There is still lots to learn. You should know that the United States government is working diligently to figure it out,” he added.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology was launched in 1978 after a series of other research institutes in the city merged to form the current lab, according to its English-language website.
The institute began building the lab’s current “national biosafety laboratory” in Wuhan in 2005 after the 2003 SARS outbreak, the website reads.
The modern building that houses the lab, near the Yangtze River in Wuhan, was completed in 2015 and received “recognition and authentication certificate for the critical protection equipment installation and commissioning,” the website reads.
It now houses research centers for 37 separate discipline groups, including a “new infectious disease research center.” It also boasts an Academic Commission with a graduate student office.