Social Media Claim

No evidence 2019 coronavirus came from a Chinese lab

A screenshot of the January 25 Facebook post featuring a video that claims a "super virus" escaped a lab and caused "100,000 plus" cases in Wuhan.

The Statement

As scientists around the world scramble to halt the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, claims that the virus originated in a Chinese lab and that it has infected more people than has been stated in official figures continue to spread online.

A 30 minute video posted to Facebook on January 25, 2020, on a page called STFN Reloaded claims the virus escaped from a “biosafety level four lab, according to experts” and infected more than 100,000 people.

The post’s caption reads, “BREAKING: PANIC STRIKES CHINA AFTER WUHAN SUPER VIRUS ESCAPES LAB - 100,000 PLUS CASES IN WUHAN”.

The post has been viewed on Facebook more than 170,000 times. The video has been shared more than 2,800 times and has attracted more than 1,400 reactions and 400 comments.

The Wuhan Huanan seafood and animal market has been named as the suspected site of initial infections with the 2019 novel coronavirus.

The Analysis

The 2019 novel coronavirus first emerged in December 2019 in Wuhan, a city in the Chinese province of Hubei, and was officially confirmed as a new strain of coronavirus in January 2020. The virus can cause symptoms ranging from those similar to the common cold to more serious infections such as SARS and MERS.

Coronaviruses, which include SARS and MERS, can be transmitted between animals and humans, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The video in the Facebook post begins with a claim that “experts” believed the virus came from a “biosafety level four lab” and that the virus may have been a “weaponised strain”. The video does not say who the experts are or describe their credentials.

There has been no official report from any government or health authority linking the outbreak to a lab.

The WHO have said the source of the virus is still unknown but “most likely an animal reservoir

US health protection agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked the initial human infections to animal exposure at a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan and said the subsequent growth of infections indicates human to human spread.

The Australian government’s Smartraveller website also states that initial human infections were acquired from exposure to animals at the Wuhan market.

According to the CDC, the 2019 novel coronavirus is a “betacoronavirus” which, like SARS coronavirus and MERS coronavirus, came from bats.

While the video in the Facebook post does not provide sources, a recent news report on US news website The Washington Times suggested the virus “may have originated” in a “laboratory in the city of Wuhan linked to China’s covert biological weapons program”.

The Washington Times describes itself as “a trusted counterweight to the mainstream media” and other outlets have subsequently cited the Washington Times report in their own articles.

The Washington Times article quoted a former Israeli military intelligence officer who said the Wuhan Institute of Virology has “probably been engaged, in terms of research and development, in Chinese [biological weapons]”.

The report also quoted the expert saying “there isn’t evidence or indication” of a virus escaping the lab.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is a biosafety laboratory that studies and deals with many different viruses and infectious diseases. It is located approximately 30km from the Huanan Seafood Market, the market identified as the possible initial site of infection.

A report in the Washington Post newspaper cited experts stating there is no evidence linking the lab to the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

US fact checkers Politifact have labelled the claim the virus was a bioweapon created in a lab near Wuhan as “unproven”.

Politifact concluded: “As of now, however, the lab’s proximity to the seafood market is a coincidence, as there is no evidence that the lab is the source of the coronavirus outbreak.”

In the description of the Facebook video posted by STFN Reloaded is the claim there are “100,000 plus” cases of the "Wuhan super virus" in Wuhan. The same claim that "100,000 people are infected" is made in the video at about the 11min 45sec mark.

According to the Wuhan Coronavirus Global Cases reporting tool created by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the tally of confirmed cases was 3,554 in Hubei province, where the city of Wuhan is located, and 6,165 worldwide as of 1200 AEST January 30, 2019.

Dingxiangyuan, a community driven website for Chinese physicians, reported a total of 2261 confirmed cases in Wuhan and 4586 in Hubei province at 12pm AEST January 30, 2019. The numbers are taken from rolling updates on China’s main public television network China Central Television (CCTV) and official Chinese Communist Party newspaper People's Daily.

The National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China (NHC) reported at 0300 AEST on January 30, 2019, that 7,711 cases had been confirmed in China, with a further 12,167 suspected cases. The NHC did not break down the statistics by province or city.

All three sources put the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China, let alone the city of Wuhan, well below the “100,000 plus cases in Wuhan” claimed in the Facebook post and video.

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. There is no evidence that the 2019 novel coronavirus came from a Chinese laboratory. Based on current information, the WHO says the virus most likely originated in an animal. The US CDC has linked the initial virus infections to a live animal market in Wuhan. The number of cases of infection with the coronavirus in Wuhan has not reached 100,000 as claimed in the video. Data from China's National Health Commission and a monitoring tool created by Johns Hopkins University show the totals to be much lower in Hubei province - where Wuhan is located - at 3,554, and in mainland China, where the count was at 7,711 on January 30.

  • False - The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

First published January 30, 2020, 14:51 AEDT