The US is investigating the theory that COVID-19 was accidentally released from a Chinese lab

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The US is investigating the theory that COVID-19 was accidentally released from a Chinese lab

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wuhan china .JPG

Aly Song/Reuters

A man wearing a face mask is seen near a bridge over the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China after the lockdown were lifted on April 15, 2020.

  • The US is exploring the possibility that COVID-19 was accidentally released from a Chinese lab, intelligence sources told Yahoo News, Fox News, and CNN.
  • President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made statements recently confirming that the government is investigating this angle.
  • China has denied the theory. Early in the crisis it pegged the virus - known to come from bats - to a wet market in Wuhan. 
  • But there are holes in that story, including the fact that bats weren't sold at the market and that the first known patient had no connection to the market.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The US government is exploring the possibility that COVID-19 was accidentally released from a Chinese lab, sources told Yahoo News, Fox News, and CNN.

The outbreak started in Wuhan, China, home to some of the country's top research laboratories. One of them - the Wuhan Institute of Virology - has done research on coronaviruses that originate in bats, as is the case with COVID-19.

The Chinese government denied that the lab was to blame early on, instead saying that the virus came from a wet market in the city. But there were holes in that theory. The market didn't sell bats and the first patient - as well as multiple people in the first cluster of cases - didn't have any connection to the market, as Yahoo News pointed out.

The sources who spoke out say the government is exploring the idea that a Wuhan lab accidentally released the virus into the public, perhaps through a worker who became unknowingly infected, and not intentionally.

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wuhan wet market

Dake Kang/AP

China has blamed the outbreak on a wet market in Wuhan, pictured above on January 21, 2020.

Yahoo News reporter Jenna McLaughlin spoke to nine current and former intelligence and national security officials familiar with the ongoing investigations for her report.

She writes that one of the things that raised suspicions in the US intelligence community is the fact that China was so quick to peg the virus' source as the wet market. "I find it very funny that China very quickly blamed the market," a retired intelligence official told Yahoo.

Sources told Fox that Chinese officials blamed the wet market to deflect attention from the laboratory and "100 percent" suppressed and changed data. "Samples were destroyed, contaminated areas scrubbed, some early reports erased, and academic articles stifled," the report states.

The sources who spoke to CNN confirmed the initial reporting from Yahoo and Fox that the intelligence community is looking into the lab theory, but said it was only one of multiple possibilities that they are considering and that it's far from confirmed.

A previous story in The Washington Post appears to lend credibility to the lab theory. This week, the Post obtained US diplomatic cables from 2018, saying that lack of safety protocols at the Wuhan Institute of Virology could prompt an outbreak. Two diplomats who made multiple visits to the lab said they were concerned that sloppy safety standards for handling contagious viruses "represented a risk for a new SARS-like pandemic." (Samples of SARS were twice leaked accidentally from Chinese labs, according to Genome Biology, an academic journal.)

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In recent weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US has grown to eclipse those of China. With that has come criticism for President Donald Trump's handling of the crisis.

Trump has responded by pinning the blame on China, continually calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus" and accusing the Chinese regime of lying about the scope of the outbreak there.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Associated Press

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday, April 15, 2020.

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both talked publicly about the potential lab theory in recent days.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, the president was asked about the recent reports and he said that the US is "doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened." However, he didn't discuss what he had been told in briefs about the possibility of the virus coming from a lab.

Following the press conference, Pompeo went into more detail about the theory on Fox News.

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"What we do know is we know that this virus originated in Wuhan, China," Pompeo said. "We know there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was. There is still lots to learn. The United States government is working diligently to figure it out."

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