Speed Reads

Alternative Theories

Did coronavirus escape from a Chinese lab? Not likely, but Trump is 'hearing the story and we'll see'

Virologists and other experts who have studied the new coronavirus say its genome precludes the possibility it was engineered by humans, as alleged in some conspiracy theories. But top Trump administration officials are at least entertaining the idea that the naturally occurring virus was accidentally spread from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a lab run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and located about eight miles from the animal market where the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have originated last November or December.

Trump was asked Wednesday about a Fox News report that sources say the Trump administration believes an intern at the lab infected her boyfriend who then spread the virus at the Wuhan market. "More and more, we're hearing the story, and we'll see," Trump said. "We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened."

Other Trump administration officials are being equally coy, saying they can't prove it didn't leak from the lab. "The mere fact that we don't know the answers — that China hasn't shared the answers — I think is very, very telling," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday on Fox News. Defense Secretary Mark Esper added on Thursday's NBC Today that he doesn't "have much faith that they're even being truthful with us now" in Beijing, though "a majority of the views right now is that it is natural, it was organic."

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Tuesday that with all the "rumor and speculation," the Pentagon has "taken a keen interest" and "had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that," and "at this point it's inconclusive." The Pentagon's chief medical officer, Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Freidrichs, was less circumspect when asked about the Wuhan lab theory: "No."

Nathan Grubaugh, who studies the epidemiology of microbial disease at Yale, told The Associated Press the negligent-lab theory was unlikely, though he "would put it on a list of 1,000 different scenarios." It isn't just the U.S., though. Italian populsit Matto Savlini has also spread the Wuhan lab speculation and China has tested out the idea that the U.S. created the virus in a lab, as BBC News notes in this fact-check of coronavirus misinformation from world leaders. Peter Weber