On April 23, Global Times, a media outlet of China’s ruling Communist Party, published a story headlined: “Scientists ‘unable to judge’ if US lab is virus source due to lack of govt response.”
The article cited “viral reports alleging that the novel coronavirus was leaked from a U.S. military biochemical laboratory.” It quoted Shi Yi, described as a “research fellow from the Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences,” who noted “that the origin of the virus is a scientific issue requiring a long period of research and involves a great deal of uncertainty.”
The article added: “The remarks came amid circulating reports alleging that the Fort Detrick laboratory, which handles high-level disease-causing materials such as Ebola, in Fredrick, Maryland, may be the origin of the deadly novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 2.6 million Americans with nearly 20,000 deaths as of 4:30 pm Thursday. The lab was ordered to shut down in July 2019, reportedly for multiple causes, including failure to follow local procedures and a lack of periodic recertification training for workers in the biocontainment laboratories.”
The claim that there were “reports” about a virus being leaked from the Fort Detrick lab are false.
First, the Global Times article referred to “reports” alleging that the virus leaked from the Fort Detrick laboratory but did not identify them. The article stated that “netizens” – internet users – from both China and the United States “have called on the U.S. government to respond to public concerns.” The fact that the U.S. government did not respond to every opinion voiced by internet users does not lend credibility to the theory that the virus leaked from the Fort Detrick laboratory.
Second, U.S. officials did comment on the incident at the laboratory that preceded its closure. Employees of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USMRIID) publicly raised safety concerns. An article published by Military.com quoted USMRIID commander Colonel E. Darrin Cox, who said no personnel were exposed to any agents or toxins due to the breach. (A breach of safety procedures does not necessarily mean there was a leak of or exposure to agents or toxins).
The New York Times cited a statement from USMRIID spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden, saying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had ordered a halt to the research at the Fort Detrick labs because they did not have “sufficient systems in place to decontaminate wastewater.” Still, she said there had been no threat to public health, no injuries to employees and no leaks of dangerous material outside the laboratory, the New York Times reported. The laboratory was re-opened for full operation in late March of this year.
Although the U.S. government has not given an official response to this specific allegation, the State Department has repeatedly called out “disinformation” surrounding the virus, naming the three biggest culprits as Russia, China and Iran. In an April 16 press briefing, Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, told reporters: “We're seeing Russian, Chinese and Iranian state information operations converging around the same disinformation narrative about COVID-19.”
In an apparent attempt to connect the breach in Fort Detrick, Maryland, to the fact that the COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China, Global Times cited “some other posts on social media platforms” alleging that a U.S. soldier who participated in the 2019 Military World Games held in Wuhan last October may have been “patient zero” for the virus. The soldier, Maatje Benassi, participated in the Games’ cycling competition.
Benassi, however, is in the U.S. Army Reserve and was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, which is approximately 40 miles away from Fort Detrick. Her unit is listed as a “observer-controller trainer” unit, which is not related to chemical or biological warfare.
The 2019 Military World Games ended on Oct. 27, while the first cases of the new COVID-19 infection were in December. It is unlikely that Benassi, who may never have visited Fort Detrick, brought the virus to Wuhan, causing an outbreak that started there more than a month after the games, but somehow did not start an outbreak in the U.S. before traveling to China. In addition, Fort Detrick’s laboratory was shut down following the reported breach in the summer of 2019, and the COVID-19 novel coronavirus’ incubation period is 14 days. In short, nothing about the Benassi theory adds up.
Most importantly, a comparative study of the virus’s genomic information conducted by the Scripps Research Institute, the results of which were announced on March 18, found that the virus was not created in a laboratory, but evolved naturally.
There have been a number of theories that COVID-19 was produced in a biological weapons laboratory, some of which Polygraph.info has fact-checked and debunked.
While many of these false theories point a finger at the United States, some have blamed China. For example, a viral video posted by The Epoch Times on April 7 alleged that SARS-CoV-2, the name of the virus that causes COVID-19, was engineered in a Chinese biological weapons laboratory. The video boasted over 70 million views. The website Health Feedback fact-checked the video and found numerous scientific errors.