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Did Covid-19 escape from a lab?

The question of whether Covid-19 escaped from a lab is a topic of debate and investigation. Some scientists and experts have suggested that a lab leak is a possibility, while others believe that the virus likely originated from animal-to-human transmission. The exact origins of Covid-19 are still not definitively known .

There is evidence to suggest that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of the leading virology labs in China, was studying SARS-like coronaviruses and had samples very similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in their possession . Some have raised concerns about the biosafety standards at the lab, as aspects of their research were conducted at biosafety levels lower than the highest-level biosafety level 4 . However, it is challenging to determine whether the virus escaped from the lab or was transmitted from animals to humans due to the advanced technology used to create viruses and the difficulty in distinguishing a lab-engineered virus from a natural one .

It is important to note that the topic of the lab-leak hypothesis is complex and ongoing investigations are being conducted to determine the origins of Covid-19. It involves a combination of scientific research, public health investigations, and international collaboration.

(someone): Which is why our immune system has four more components. So let's talk about the second component, early detection. Early detection is everything in epidemics, especially when a new disease is stalking the earth, like COVID or any artificial pathogen that could be unleashed in the future. That's because in the first days of an outbreak, cases tend to grow exponentially. And we saw how profound exponential growth is when we discussed SynBio's speed of improvement. COVID illustrates the cost of ignoring a novel disease's outbreak. A study published in Nature estimates that if China had implemented lockdowns and other measures three weeks sooner, the number of Chinese COVID cases could have been reduced by 95%. Had that happened, who knows if the disease would have reached the rest of the world. And the tragic fact is, China squandered much more early lead time than that, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal. The head of the country's own Center for Disease Control and Prevention learned about the outbreak not from some advanced disease monitoring system, but from reading the news online. And by then, there were dozens of suspected cases. Why? Among other things, the journal reports that local hospitals didn't log cases in the China CDC's real-time tracking system. Plus, local authorities wanted to hide bad news from Beijing. National leaders later followed suit by hiding information from the rest of the world. This is not meant as national finger-pointing, because my own country's CDC has a dismal COVID history. I instead want to show how vital early detection will be if a deadly artificial pathogen is ever unleashed. So how do you find the first signs of a pandemic?
(someone): Figuring this out would totally change the global vaccination timeline, because there's 22 BCG manufacturers throughout the world, and there are distribution channels for BCG into almost all the developing world with armies of people who know how to store and administer the vaccine. And it's obviously just morally urgent to speed up vaccinations in poorer countries. But it's also in the selfish interests of rich countries that are about to get all the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines they need, because every person that COVID infects is another opportunity for it to mutate. And COVID is incredibly prone to mutation, as we're seeing from these terrifying new strains, at least one of which is, you know, the South African one is partly resistant to vaccines. And so if we take our guard down after, you know, wealthy countries are vaccinated, if COVID keeps rampaging amongst billions of people, we can pretty much count on a new strain emerging, which can steamroll through all of our hard-earned defenses. And so we need a great phase three trial test of BCG against COVID, whether it's Megan's or someone else's, even if it's a long shot. Because I mean, this would cost, this test would cost tens of billions of dollars, not the billion plus we spent on each candidate for Project Warp Speed, because there's no vaccine to be developed. It's just a test. And there are luckily some huge philanthropists like Bill Gates who have started investing in BCG with an eye toward COVID, but we shouldn't sit around and wait for somebody to gift this to the world. It should just be an immediate public investment. And the other reason to do this, to study BCG much more deeply beyond COVID,
(someone): They were also working with diverse SARS-like viruses. They were going out and intentionally looking for SARS-like viruses that were different from the SARS-1 virus. And it was with these viruses that they were doing experiments to see how they might eventually also cause outbreaks in people. So these different SARS-like viruses were seen as low-risk viruses. So they weren't seen as close relatives of the first SARS virus likely to spill over into people at any time, but they were seen as things that you could manipulate in the lab and not be so worried that you would cause a pandemic.
Sam Harris: Okay, so let's talk about the virus itself, and you described manipulations that were seamless and undetectable. What is detectable? When you look at a virus of this kind, what are the signs that it may have been manipulated, and what signs exist in the SARS-CoV-2 virus as we have come to know it?
(someone): It's incredibly difficult to distinguish a lab-engineered virus from a natural virus. Because any lab-engineered virus has to be derived from a virus that was found in nature. Scientists don't have a magical ability to just conjure novel viruses, then tie a blueprint by themselves. They have to base it on something they found in nature. And the problem, the challenge is that nowadays the technology to build these viruses, to entirely synthesize their genome is so advanced that you can do it leaving no trace. And for example, when this virus, when the pandemic virus, its sequence was posted, it took very little time for several groups of scientists around the world to just synthetically create it from scratch. with no trace of them having engineered it. In fact, they had to deliberately put in traces of them engineering it.
(someone): It's ready to fight anything, unlike the adaptive immune system which creates highly effective specialized responses to specific enemies, but needs time to get started. So, could widespread BCG use help foil a pandemic? Well, as early as March, people started noticing that countries with long-running BCG programs, like Japan, generally had much lower COVID infection and death rates than countries with no BCG programs, like the U.S. A rigorous study of this effect appeared in the July 28th edition of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. To control for things like socioeconomics, population structure, and urbanization, the researchers looked at a set of what they called socially similar European countries. And they found that for every 10% increase in a BCG coverage index, COVID death rates dropped by 10.4%. An intriguingly stark example was found in Germany. Back when the country was divided, East Germany pursued a policy which has yielded far more BCG coverage in today's elderly adults, who are of course the most vulnerable group to COVID. And today, the death rate from COVID is 290% higher in Western Germany, the opposite of what we'd expect to see, given that Western Germany is the far more prosperous region. Is all of this just a coincidence? Of course, it could be, which means this screams for multiple clinical trials. They should be run in places like the U.S., where almost no one has ever had the vaccine. Researchers would then give one group of people BCG and another group a placebo, and then compare COVID infection rates between the groups over time. Although some BCG COVID trials are in fact underway, I'm still stunned by how hard it is to raise tiny research funds for such obviously important work.
Sam Harris: Wasn't it the case at one point that the CCP was alleging that the virus had been spread to Wuhan by the Americans or by, I mean, it was an act of bioterrorism that came from outside of China? I mean, didn't things break down that much?
(someone): There was a athletics tournament in Wuhan in October 2019, the World Military Games, in which lots of countries sent military athletes. And the suggestion was made fairly obliquely by the Chinese authorities that this might have been how the virus got there. and that it might indeed have been a bioweapon from Fort Detrick. They even mentioned the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, which is another coronavirus research center that collaborates with Wuhan. And, you know, this is only one of many really rather flimsy theories that have been put out there by the Chinese regime. The most notorious one, of course, is the one that they got the World Health Organization to briefly endorse at a rather farcical press conference. two years ago this week, which was that it had reached China on frozen food from overseas, frozen seafood in particular, for which there is no evidence. And when you think about it, it makes absolutely no sense because A, it's not a very good vehicle for transporting viruses, and B, it would infect whoever else is getting frozen food from those sources elsewhere in the world. It wouldn't turn up in just one city. So, you know, there have been some fairly desperate alibis put out there by the Chinese authorities to try and deflect questions about the lab in Wuhan and also about the market in Wuhan. I mean, we shouldn't forget that the Chinese regime doesn't want it to be blamed on the habit of selling live animals in markets in China.
(someone): So the so-called R0, or actually more precisely something called the effective reproductive rate, which is the number in a steady state, the number of new cases for every old case, people are estimating is between two and four. So we don't know yet exactly how it is. And just to be clear, that number is related to intrinsic properties of the virus, but it's not solely determined by that. So, for example, the transmission rate of a pathogen depends, for example, on the extent of social mixing. If I suddenly obliged everyone to sit in a prison cell, if one person got sick, they wouldn't transmit it to anyone else. So it's something about how we're organized socially that determines the RE, the effective reproductive rate. And so we estimate right now that it's, you know, around between two and four, which is high. The Chinese, at the beginning of the epidemic, there was a nice paper that was just written by a group of Chinese scholars in collaboration with some investigators at the Harvard School of Public Health. At the beginning of the epidemic, If I'm remembering these numbers correctly, they estimated the effective reproductive rate at around 3.8. So for every sick person, 3.8 new sick people were created. But because of their social engineering in China, where they have, as we discussed earlier, have this incredible quarantine, basically, that's nationwide, they have driven that down to below one. And when you get the number below one, that's when the epidemic peters out, because each cases aren't replacing themselves.
Sam Harris: What about the prospect that this is essentially always going to be with us, you know, once it's a pandemic? Yes, that's what's going to happen.
(someone): It's a lot more of cost, time, training, you have all these special requirements, it becomes very challenging to do the experiment and very costly. So if you are the scientist and you don't really fear these viruses anymore, is there really a need to expend all that extra money and cost and personnel for this extra safety?
Sam Harris: But aren't we now talking about manipulations to the virus that, by definition, make it more likely to infect humans? I mean, we're going to talk about a furin cleavage site and any other molecular evidence now, but isn't the allegation that they were performing gain-of-function research of some sort, which should, by definition, have made them more concerned about getting infected themselves when working with these viruses?
(someone): So even in the case of the first SARS outbreak, the early variants of that virus weren't very good at causing outbreaks in people. It was only at a later stage, once it had collected the correct set of mutations that made it well adapted for people, that it was capable of causing outbreaks. So for these scientists, they had collected some close relatives of the SARS-1 virus, and they were working with these also at low biosafety levels. But I suspect that they didn't feel threatened. They didn't feel like, you know, even if I spill this, it's going to cause an outbreak. So they probably had this perception that it would require quite a few stamps, quite a period of time, repeated spill overs, repeated infections before it would reach a pandemic level. They were also working with diverse SARS-like viruses. They were going out and intentionally looking for SARS-like viruses that were different from the SARS-1 virus.
(someone): And we've seen from some of the released progress reports sent to the NIH, that in some cases they accidentally really enhanced some of these viruses in the lab in animal models of human disease. So they had this very unique program where quite risky research was being done. And it was only found out later, after the pandemic started, that much of this research, including involving live viruses, had been done at quite low biosafety, at a biosafety that could not have protected them from being infected by viruses like the pandemic virus.
Sam Harris: Let's linger on that point. So what is the biosafety level of the lab and how does that relate to biosafety levels elsewhere?
(someone): So Matt, do you want me to take this?
(someone): Yes, keep going. You're doing a very good job, Alina.
(someone): So when the outbreak was first detected, lots of people were just thinking about the top biosafety lab in Wuhan, so their BSL-4, the maximum biosafety level. But the truth was, all of their research on these bad coronaviruses, including the SARS-like viruses, had been done at lower levels, at BSL-2. and BSL-3. So they worked with live viruses, even at BSL-2. And at this level, you cannot be protected from an infectious airborne SARS-like virus. And there's no requirement, even if people are sick, even if they fall sick, they don't have to report it, they don't have to quarantine. So there would have been no record of someone being infected in the lab by such a virus.
Sam Harris: Wow, well that's pretty damning in its own right.
(someone): And also saying they had it under control and that they hadn't had any deaths for 10 days or something. So there really was a period in January 2020 when probably local officials were desperate not to get into trouble with more powerful central bureaucrats, and were giving out false reassurance about what was happening. Don't worry, we've closed the market, there's no human transmission, the cases that are in hospitals will either recover or die, and then it'll peter out. And then by the end of January, they suddenly realized, because of the flood of people coming into the hospitals, that that's wrong, that people are giving it to each other on a massive scale, that it's spreading like mad and that it's killing people. And so they then reacted with very, very draconian lockdowns, as you say, that sort of worked to start with, with the relatively less infectious version of COVID that was then spreading, wouldn't have worked with Omicron, for example, two years later. But it worked, you know, Wuhan did manage to stamp it out, but with extraordinarily draconian measures, as you say, you know, welding doors shut and things like that. And then that persisted for a couple of years until towards the end of last year that even that became untenable. They could not stop these milder but more infectious versions of the virus spreading very rapidly and they simply took the lid off. So there's been two changes in China, both of which have probably gone too far in the wrong direction.
(someone): And by the way, many very level-headed people believe that COVID itself might have leaked out of a biosafety level 4 lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Now, I haven't dug deep enough into that to fully form my own point of view on whether that would have been a leak or not. But it's definitely not just the realm of the tinfoil hat crowd. And then the last example, which is relevant for an additional set of reasons, as if it's not grim enough, is the anthrax attack of 2001, which killed five people. This was a week after 9-11, and envelopes containing anthrax spores showed up at some media outlets, as well as the offices of a couple senators, including the Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle. And as it happens, I was in Daschle's office that week, so this one's kind of seared into my memory. And it turns out that those spores came out of a high-security U.S. Army biodefense lab, probably at Fort Detrick in Maryland, although some people think it might've been another Army lab. Now, there's always gonna be a swirl of mystery and conspiracy theory around this one because the FBI's main suspect actually killed himself before any indictments or trials. But regardless of who took the spores out of the lab, It's hard to imagine a country at a higher level of alert than the U.S. after 9-11, one week after 9-11. And it's hard to imagine a significantly more security-minded and security-capable organization than the U.S. military.
(someone): Well, maybe I can chip in on that one and Alina can join in. In the case of SARS in 2003, there was a very clear link to markets, food handlers, and that kind of thing. So when this one cropped up, and it's a very, very similar virus, it's very closely related to SARS, and it was first noticed in and around a food market, it seemed to be very much the same story. And that remains a possibility. There were mammals on sale in that market. Not nearly as many as you would find in southern China. This is an area of China where you don't have the same habit of buying live animals in markets to the same degree. But there were mammals on sale in that market. And people did seem to get infected in that market. And the geographical proximity of the outbreak to a major food market does look a bit like SARS in 2003. The problem was they never found an infected animal, whereas they easily found them in the case of SARS. And although they found evidence of the virus in the market, it was on things like doorknobs, countertops and in the sewage, you know, it was the human version of the virus being spread around by people. So, yeah, it remains a possibility that this was very much like SARS. It started in that market. and that somebody was selling bamboo rats which had been kept in a cave where bats had been defecating on them or something like that. And yes, you know, we would expect something like that to happen every now and then because we know that these viruses are circulating in wild bats and people are coming into contact with them in the wild.
Sam Harris: I mean, it's a vascular illness, and also, as you say, a neurological one.
(someone): We certainly know about coronaviruses. I mean, we have some evidence there are four coronaviruses that cause the common cold. In my book, I speculate, in keeping with speculations by others, that the 1890 pandemic was actually not influenza, but may have been a coronavirus. And over time, that virus has now become the virus, one of the four coronaviruses that causes the common cold. It's become more benign. We've evolved as well some natural immunity to it. We get the disease as children, and then when we're re-exposed as adults, we have a minor illness. There's a whole set of human diseases that behave this way. So it's possible that this current coronavirus, you know, in 100 years, or perhaps sooner, will — I should just emphasize, the virus is not going to disappear. I mean, it's going to keep circulating among us forever. The only issue is how will we cope with it. And hopefully we'll have a vaccine, and we haven't talked about that yet, and we can. But one One thing that is likely to happen is that the virus will, over a period of years, will evolve to be less lethal, and probably we will be exposed to it as children when we, as we already know, are relatively less adversely affected by it, as is also typical of other coronaviruses. For example, the 2003 coronavirus — this is all discussed in my book, by the way —
(someone): So when the Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists, who have spent the last decade collecting these viruses, first heard of this outbreak in her city, she said, could it have come from my lab? Because we never believed that a SARS-like virus would break out in Wuhan city. They in fact used their own city as a negative control. So a place where they would expect zero people to be exposed to this type of bad coronavirus. And yet, this was the location of arguably the largest collection and manipulation sensor of SARS-like viruses from that region, resembling this pandemic virus. So we've got the location.
Sam Harris: Let me just make sure I understand what you're saying there. So you're saying that Wuhan is not a place where you would expect a natural ambient level of SARS viruses because the horseshoe bats don't live locally, is that what you're saying?
(someone): No, so the horseshoe bats do live there, but to find that type of SARS-like virus, these scientists had to make trips every year far down south. So they had to travel thousands of kilometers down south to South China, to Yunnan. They even went across borders to Southeast Asia down south. So they were collecting across eight different countries. South China and seven Southeast Asian countries in that belt where they predicted there was the highest prevalence of these type of viruses. So that type of bed, the horseshoe beds, do live broadly across China. But to find those viruses, you have to go very far down south. And so even if you look at the Equal Health Alliance, so this is a New York-based U.S.
Sam Harris: Welcome to the Making Sense podcast. This is Sam Harris. Okay, this is my second podcast on coronavirus, and it is very consciously a follow-up to the one I just dropped with Nicholas Christakis. I've done this with Dr. Amish Adalja, who's an infectious disease specialist affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. As many of you know, the Johns Hopkins website has become a resource for more or less everyone on the spread of coronavirus. And Amish has a background in infectious disease and he's helped develop U.S. government guidelines for the treatment of plague and botulism and anthrax. He has edited the journal Health Security, a volume on global catastrophic biological risks. He's a contributing author to the Handbook of Bioterrorism and Disaster Medicine. So the spread of an emerging pandemic is very much in his wheelhouse. As you'll hear, he sounds less concerned than I do. And the reasons for that become explicit at two points. So I just want to flag that here so that you have an emotional barometer to the conversation. The first is that his estimate for the case fatality rate for coronavirus, worst case, puts it at 0.6 percent, which is six times worse than influenza, but quite a bit better than the worst case scenarios being talked about elsewhere. he definitely thinks that this is going to be considerably lower than 1% fatality. So if true, that's obviously good news. Six times worse than the flu would still be quite terrible when you run the numbers, but it doesn't put this virus at 3% or 2% or even 1.5%, which is a very common figure one sees at the moment.
(someone): In a press statement, it said that the modified virus's release could result in, quote, an unimaginable catastrophe for which the world is inadequately prepared. Coming from an organization that's not known for drama, the words unimaginable catastrophe are bone chilling. If that's not scary enough for you, I'll add that this work wasn't done in the world's most secure labs, literally, because both the Wisconsin and Holland facilities were certified biosafety level 3, which is a big notch below the top rating of biosafety level 4. This isn't very reassuring, given the history of deadly substances erupting from profoundly secure labs. Think of the anthrax attacks of 2001, when the lethal spores found their way from a U.S. Army lab to the offices of the Senate Majority Leader. Or consider that the last person killed by smallpox caught it because a British lab let the bug escape after decades of globally coordinated efforts had eradicated it from the entire planet. Or consider Britain's 2007 foot and mouth disease outbreak which began with a leak from a biosafety level 4 lab. Incidents like these make it blindingly clear that any pathogen can potentially escape from any lab, because humans are fallible, and so are labs of any biosafety level. Knowing these facts, what kind of person brings into existence a pandemic-ready bug that could be a hundred times deadlier than COVID, that could kill a majority of the people it infects, and perhaps be wildly contagious? In this case, not evil people. These were virologists who thought their research would help us face subsequent natural mutations in H5N1, but they were shooting dice with our future.
(someone): one year after the eradication, but nonetheless, smallpox managed to escape from a British lab. It infected two people and killed one of them. So the last person in history to die of smallpox died as a result of a lab leakage. And as for biosafety level four labs, which is the very, very highest level of biosafety by an international set of standards, and biosafety level four is extremely rare. There aren't a lot of them in the world. So this is the pinnacle. We can look at a foot and mouth disease outbreak in, or leakage rather, in Britain once again, back in 2007. And again, this timing is relevant because just a few years before that, Britain's cattle industry had suffered a crippling foot and mouth outbreak. So high alert for foot and mouth in the UK. But despite that, the virus literally leaked out of this BSL-4 lab into the surrounding groundwater. And then two weeks after that lab resumed work, It happened again. So we're at the pinnacle of biosafety in a country that's been blighted by this disease recently, and we have this leak. And in light of that, do we really want to do gain-of-function research into pathogens that might imperil civilization itself? And by the way, many very level-headed people believe that COVID itself might have leaked out of a biosafety level 4 lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Now, I haven't dug deep enough into that to fully form my own point of view on whether that would have been a leak or not.
(someone): And over the last few years, we've seen again and again, a lot of support within the US for exactly that type of dangerous virus research that's commonly known now as gain-of-function research. So if the pandemic did start from a lab in Wuhan, it is not just a Chinese government issue. It is actually an issue that affects multiple countries, many countries who have all supported and endorsed and engaged in this work. And the US is a big funder of it. So they would have almost equal responsibility, I think, in my eyes.
Sam Harris: OK, so it's not just China and its political sensitivities. If, in fact, this is the result of laboratory negligence, there's a lot of blame to spread around, and we'll get there.
(someone): So, to start... Yeah, I mean, sorry, just to chip in there, Sam, if I may, just to amplify one of the points. It is the case that Western virology feels worried that its entire research program, indeed the whole of biotechnology, might lose its funding, might lose its social license if a major accident is revealed to have happened as a result of work in a laboratory. And, you know, I share that concern in a sense. I'm pro-biotech, I'm pro-vaccine, I'm pro- genetic engineering of crops and in medicine as well. And it would be a terrible pity if as a result of this, the world said, right, we don't want to have anything to do with biotechnology ever again. It's a disaster. But I think truth is more important than consequence.
Sam Harris: As I said, the topic today is the origins of COVID, more precisely the SARS-CoV-2 virus. So we discuss the evidence of a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We talk about media and academic censorship of this topic, the history of collaboration between Western scientists and Chinese labs, the problems with so-called gain-of-function research, the evidence for the zoonotic origins of SARS-CoV-2, such as it is, the initial complacency and denialism of the Chinese, the biosafety levels at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the molecular evidence of a lab leak, the practical constraints on synthesizing viruses, the lack of international cooperation, conspiracy theories promulgated by the CCP, the EcoHealth Alliance, different kinds of gain-of-function research, virus hunting, risk and reward in the search for knowledge, Anthony Fauci, and other topics. Anyway, I found it a fascinating and also fairly confounding conversation. This is one of those topics where you just can't believe we are in the situation that we're in, given bad incentives and basic human stupidity. Anyway, Matt and Alina were great guys to the topic, so I hope you find this useful. And now I bring you Matt Ridley and Alina Chan. I am here with Matt Ridley and Alina Chan. Matt, Alina, thanks for joining me.
(someone): Great to be with you.
Sam Harris: So we're going to talk about your book. When did it first come out? It is now out in paperback. When did you first publish this? I should give the title, it's viral, the search for the origin of COVID-19.
(someone): Researchers would then give one group of people BCG and another group a placebo, and then compare COVID infection rates between the groups over time. Although some BCG COVID trials are in fact underway, I'm still stunned by how hard it is to raise tiny research funds for such obviously important work. As I was researching this, I got to know two scientists who were proposing some exceptionally well-designed research into BCG's benefits for an extremely vulnerable population to COVID. They're from one of the world's top and best-known universities. But instead of running their trial, they were hunting for a few million dollars in funding during a pandemic that's costing the U.S. alone $7 trillion, at least. Again, this is insane. Even though BCG, like Far-UVC Light, could admittedly turn out to be a flop, we won't know until we fund the inexpensive research that tells us. You might question why this research is still important, with so many COVID-specific vaccines entering the market. The answer is that we have an entire planet to vaccinate, almost 8 billion people. Some of the new vaccines are expensive, with limited production capacity, whereas BCG costs as little as 7 cents a dose, and is made by 22 different manufacturers throughout the world. And COVID aside, this could be a game changer for future pandemics. BCG's greatest superpower seems to be fighting respiratory infections of all types. And a huge percentage of pandemics, as well as novel diseases with the potential to become pandemics, are respiratory in nature. SARS, MERS, COVID, flu, tuberculosis itself. You get the picture.
Sam Harris: I've had to encounter this both publicly and privately, but it's this concern that the mortality statistics of COVID are being amplified because doctors have been incentivized to over-report COVID deaths. We rely on doctors to fill out death certificates, and the CDC guidance for reporting a COVID death does not require a positive test for COVID. And this seems to be a concession to how inept we were at testing and still are at testing. So rather, doctors simply need to deem it probable that COVID was part of the picture in accounting for this death. So they presume a COVID death, in many cases, based on a constellation of symptoms, whatever else may be wrong with the patient. And of course, there are many respiratory conditions that people die from. There's COPD, and asthma, and pneumonia, and and they also kill some hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, right? So these are not tiny sources of mortality. It's easy to imagine that if doctors are simply admonished to check the COVID box whenever it's plausible against this background of other respiratory diseases, that could inflate the number of COVID deaths. And just to add one final wrinkle here, which is perhaps the most troubling, This was happening in the context where there was actually, and probably still is, a financial incentive to presume COVID's involvement because, you know, hospitals, many hospitals were on the verge of bankruptcy because all elective procedures were being canceled because nobody wanted to get COVID. And they were given money, I think HHS allocated something like $50 billion for hospitals that were having to deal with a surge of COVID cases.
(someone): So there would have been no record of someone being infected in the lab by such a virus.
Sam Harris: Wow, well that's pretty damning in its own right. You know, Jon Stewart famously made the joke that you've got a novel bat coronavirus outbreak and what do you have in town? You've got the Wuhan Institute of Virology working on precisely these sorts of viruses. And now we find at a level of security that couldn't possibly protect against a leak. On some level, what more do you need to know? I know there is more to know. We'll talk about the molecular evidence. But that alone, isn't that damning?
(someone): Can I just add to that point? This wasn't just one of the Chinese virology labs. This was pretty well the leading virology lab in China, with the possible exception of one or two others, and certainly the leading one for SARS-like coronavirus. This was the lab that had tracked down where the SARS virus came from that caused the 2003 epidemic. And they were very proud of that fact. They'd found a cave in Yunnan with horseshoe bats in it, in which very close relatives of the SARS virus were circulating. So, you know, this is not just any lab. This is the main SARS-like coronavirus research lab in the world, effectively. The particular striking feature is that when this pandemic broke out, they announced that they already had in their possession in that lab a very close relative of this new virus. They called it RATG13.
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