So far, speculations include the possibility that (1) the pathogen was bioengineered and (2) that a laboratory worker was infected while handling a bat.
“The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” the group said. “Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens.”
As COVID-19 continues to spread, many have singled out the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) as the potential source of SARS-CoV-2, since it houses a laboratory with biosafety level 4 — the highest security level required to isolate dangerous biological agents in an enclosed facility.
Additionally, researchers at the institute study coronaviruses from bats, including the one closest to SARS-CoV-2, according to Science Magazine, the peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
In a statement on Wednesday, the institute dismissed rumors blaming it for the epidemic.
It debunked theories such as “the WIV was taken over by the military,” “a WIV researcher died from the leaked virus,” “a WIV student is patient zero” and “a WIV researcher reported to authorities that the WIV chief was responsible,” according to the South China Morning Post.
To make matters worse, the spread of false information has interfered with the institute’s work.
According to WIV, the rumors have caused “severe damage” to its researchers who have dedicated themselves to the front line and “seriously interrupted” the emergency research it has been running to fight the outbreak.
The group of 27 scientists urged others to support those in the front lines by signing a change.org petition.
“Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus,” they said. “We support the call from the Director-General of WHO to promote scientific evidence and unity over misinformation and conjecture. We want you, the science and health professionals of China, to know that we stand with you in your fight against this virus.”