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Mail on Sunday Continues to Push Wuhan Lab Theory

The latest from Mail on Sunday politics hack Glen Owen on the Wuhan Institute of Virology:

‘I’ve seen better seals on my fridge!’ Shocking photos from inside Wuhan lab show broken seal on unit which stores 1,500 virus strains – including the bat coronavirus behind the deadly pandemic

Pictures from inside Wuhan’s secretive Institute of Virology show a broken seal on the door of one of the refrigerators used to hold 1,500 different strains of virus – including the bat coronavirus which has jumped to humans with such devastating effect.

The pictures, first released by the state-owned China Daily newspaper in 2018, were published on Twitter last month, before being deleted. One comment attached read: ‘I have seen better seals on my refrigerator in my kitchen.’

This is slightly garbled – as the text itself notes, the photos were published in 2018, not “last month”. A screenshot provided by the MoS shows that the images appeared in a China DailyTweet dated 28 May 2018, and it was this Tweet (“Take a look at the largest #virus bank in Asia! Wuhan Institute of Virology in Central China’s Hubei province preserves more than 1,500 different strains of virus”) that was deleted, apparently last month after various Twitter users drew attention to it (e.g. here). The Tweet was also noted by a site called IndiaGlitz on 24 March 2020.

The Tweet did not include a link to a story, but the photos remain online on the website of the Wuhan lab itself, on a page dated 4 June 2018 (other uploads on the site show that this is the correct reading of 04-06-18, rather than 6 April). Do they actually show a faulty door seal, and if so, how significant is it? The apparent seal is on the back of a small door within a larger refrigeration unit that has a bigger external door. It’s difficult to interpret, but rather than ask an expert for comment Owen gives us the assessment of one @JohnPollizzi (“Knight Philosopher Scholar Magician… Crypto believer”), whose 10 March 2020 Tweet in response to the China Daily Tweet provides the mocking headline quote.

The story is the latest in an ongoing series by Owen in which the Mail on Sunday, most likely at the direction of Downing Street briefings, has pointed the finger at the Wuhan lab. In this latest installment, Owen takes credit for Trump being asked about the issue during the week:

Last week, this newspaper also disclosed that the institute had undertaken corona-virus experiments on bats captured more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan, funded by a $3.7 million grant from the US government.

Sequencing of the Covid-19 genome has traced it to the bats found only in those caves.

Our revelations led to Donald Trump being quizzed at a press conference last week about the leak theory, to which the President replied: ‘We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation.’

I discussed this earlier story the time – the claim about the genome is dubious, and Owen conflated experiments on coronaviruses taken from swabs in Yunnan with experiments on actual bats. The “disclosure” was a reference to material that was already in the public domain in English, and Owen bulked the piece out with wild speculation about researchers selling lab animals to food markets derived from American news sites.

The new article follows the same pattern. Owen thus relies on “sources who had been briefed on intelligence” who have spoken to Fox News, and who apparently believe that “patient zero” was (wait for it…) “an intern at the lab”, and he tells us that

one political source said that there was ‘growing scientific curiosity’ over the symptoms of a marked loss of taste and smell in many victims of Covid-19. 

‘This might – only might – indicate a level of human interference,’ the source said.

Of course, the lab should be not be discounted as a possible source for the virus; in particular, the Washington Post recently reported that diplomatic cables had previously raised concerns about safety at the lab. But such heavy reliance on anonymous claims that are impossible to assess or hold anyone accountable for is less than satisfactory.