Three reasons to believe the Wuhan virus is a bioweapon

I know it sounds like tinfoil-hat territory, but there are now three pieces of evidence pointing at the conclusion that the Wuhan coronavirus is an accidentally released bioweapon.

UPDATE: Just two. The paper giving evidence for engineering was retracted s a few days after I wrote this.

First point: The propagation statistics of this virus have looked deeply weird from the get-go. In particular, the differential in spread and mortality rates between China and the rest of the world.

This map and accompanying statistics story the story. Inside China, the disease is propagating like crazy and has 2.3% mortality among those showing overt symptoms (which sounds low, but it’s about the same as the devastating 1918 flu virus). Outside of China, the disease has spread very very slowly and there have been zero deaths. If it had comparable lethality among overseas populations to what it has exhibited in China we should have seen approximately 4 overseas deaths by now.

In general, infectious diseases only have this kind of behavioral split when for whatever reason you’re looking at two populations with greatly differing vulnerability to the pathogen. The classic example is Hansen’s disease – leprosy – which is nearly asymptomatic in most of the population but has horrifying symptoms if you are in a minority with exactly the wrong alleles at six identified genetic loci.

In the case of the Wuhan virus, infectivity and lethality may be related to a particular protein called ACE II which, when present in lung cells, acts as a receptor for the virus. This receptor is, apparently, common in East Asians but not in other populations.

If you were designing a targeted bioweapon, this is exactly the kind of discriminator you’d look for – a way to make it highly lethal to a specific target population and relatively harmless to others.

Second point: The Wuhan virus shows signs of having been engineered. This paper says there are four sequences in the Wuhan virus’s spike protein that are suspiciously similar to those of the AIDS virus. The abstract observes the similarities are “unlikely to be fortuitous in nature”.

Third point: Laboratory facilities that are graded for the most dangerous category of research into infectious diseases are called P4 or BSL4 labs. If you are doing research into biological warfare, a P4 lab is where you are doing it, because it’s too dangerous to pursue anywhere else.

Worldwide, there are approximately 55 such laboratories. The U.S. has 15 of them. The People’s Republic of China has one. It’s the Wuhan Institute of Virology and yes, it’s located at geographical ground zero of the outbreak.

Awfully damn coincidental, isn’t that?

Let’s review. Virus shows signs of engineering. There’s a P4 lab dealing in virus research at ground zero of the epidemic. And the virus exhibits weirdly sharp selectivity about who it will infect and kill.

There are problems with the bioweapon theory. One is the obvious question of why the PRC would design a bioweapon genetically targeted at its own people. Another is that the Wuhan virus is missing some traits you’d want in a production bioweapon, like much higher lethality and a reliable vaccine. If the PRC had one they would surely have deployed it by now.

But there is a plausible theory that fits all these facts. It’s this: the Wuhan virus was not a deliberate release of a production bioweapon, it was an accidental release of research in progress – the kind of nasty “Ooops!” that P4 containment is designed to prevent. Someone screwed up big time.

And why targeted on East Asians? Possibly no reason at all other than they were experimenting with genetic targeting and it was intended as a step towards a virus that could selectively target gweilos. Or Japanese. Or Indians.

But I can think of a blood-chillingly good reason for the Communists to keep a shot like this in their locker. And that reason is the island of Taiwan. Release the virus there, wait for it to do its thing, then when the Taiwanese are screaming for help offer humanitarian aid. Delivered by the People’s Liberation Army.

No, I do not think this was intended for Hong Kong. The PRC leadership are not gamblers; I don’t think they’d be down with releasing a bioweapon in a city that has close overland links with the Chinese industrial heartland. But Taiwan is an island; if the plague got too hot for available countermeasures you could just interdict the island until it cooled down.

A final note: if the Chinese people become convinced that the PRC government brewed up this virus, it’s done. Kaput. Serious plagues are historically considered a sign that a dynasty has lost the Mandate of Heaven anyway, and the self-infliction of the wound would make the legitimacy collapse harder. Every couple of centuries there are popular revolts severe enough to topple dynasties; we could see one over this.

78 thoughts on “Three reasons to believe the Wuhan virus is a bioweapon

  1. Hello Eric,

    Where does your mortality rate of 23% come from? The info on that very page you link makes it look more like 2.3%.

    Best regards,
    Benjamin

    • >Where does your mortality rate of 23% come from? The info on that very page you link makes it look more like 2.3%.

      Oops. I dropped a decimal point. Will correct.

      • Also consider sampling bias. That 2.3% is likely quite high. It’s not 2.3% of people “showing symptoms”. It’s 2.3% of people “reporting symptoms”, which likely a lot of people didn’t initially, since symptomatically this new coronavirus just looks like a bad cold or flu.

        It certainly seems less dangerous than the garden variety flu going around the US this year, which has already killed over 8000 people (in the US) this year.

        And the bio-weapon talk is…I’ll be nice and say “highly unsubstantiated”. Please don’t submit to media panic.

        • >Please don’t submit to media panic.

          LOL. The media is working pretty hard at forestalling a panic. Me, I started thinking “bioweapon” when the third piece of evidence landed. “One is chance; twice is happenstance; three times is enemy action”

          The appears-engineered claim is now looking shaky, but I’m not going to consider the bioweapon hypothesis out of play unless and until infectivity for East Asians and non-East-Asians equalizes a lot.

  2. Jesus Christ.

    Hey, remeber the Heinlein story “The Day After Tomorrow” aka “Sixth Column”?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixth_Column

    The Good Guys ended up with a range of weapons and tools based on the “Ledbetter Effect”…

    “The laboratory is in turmoil as the novel begins. All but six of the personnel have died suddenly, due to unknown forces released by an experiment operating within the newly discovered magneto-gravitic or electro-gravitic spectra. The surviving scientists soon learn that they can selectively kill people by releasing the internal pressure of their cell membranes, among other things. Using this discovery, they construct a race-selective weapon that will kill only Asians.”

    • They discover a number of mystery-radiation effects which can be selective on proteins or other compounds that are distinctive to species or sub-populations of species, such as an ethnic group. Thus the ray can be used to kill all the mice or rats in a structure, or all bacteria of a particular species in the body of a person or animal. Or to stun selectively: one of the first uses is to stun a squad of invaders.

      It’s a clever idea, but finding a frequency which resonates in a particular key protein and in nothing else would be a nightmare. So would finding a protein which occurs in all of a target sub-population and only that sub-population. Not that that would be obvious in 1941, when RAH wrote.

    • Yeah. I personally no nothing about the topic, but a computational geneticist I know says the paper is horse shit showing signs of being written for rubes.

      Second clue: came from Zerohedge, also written for rubes.

      • Well the typesetting of the paper is horrible. The kerning around the lowercase “L” is Bad. Size, weight, and position of capital cases are also poor.

        What strikes me about the paper is they are saying anomalous, and not fortuitous, without having some test or method to quantify that.

        Even if you accept their assessment there’s nothing in the paper that really screams engineering. And the authors themselves were pointing at some sort of in-situ interaction/recombination across viral families.

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  4. Can we be sure that the statistics out of China are accurate? For instance, that cases that aren’t too serious to hide aren’t being officially diagnosed as other diseases to keep the extent of the epidemic from being publically known and causing domestic panic?

    • >Can we be sure that the statistics out of China are accurate?

      No. But if the PRC is low-balling the numbers that makes the divergence between Chinese and overseas incidence larger and actually strengthens the bioweapon case.

      • The fact that it’s sorta Chinese-targeted says to me that it’s a locally evolved strain, probably endemic (coronaviruses being common as dirt), that’s mutated in some unpleasant way that is now evading common immunity. Need not be a bioweapon at all. Eventually we’ll all be exposed, most of us will develop some degree of natural immunity, and life will go on as before.

  5. Echoing Jon Brase, we have absolutely no idea what either the numerator, Case Fatality Rate, or denominator, total number infected are (details on request).

    Wuhan’s BSL-4 lab is, as Wikipedia puts it, the only “visible” on the PRC has. It would be extremely foolish to assume they didn’t previously build “hidden” ones where they’ve been doing their serious military research for a long time. Normal research of this class of coronaviruses only requires BSL-3 labs, of which there are many more in the US and PRC, including in Wuhan, although of course the PRC had several “oops” events Beijing in the SARS chaos.

    The official numbers that do look very questionable depend on a lot of things the PRC might be lying about (it’s a f***ing unreconstructed Communist county after all, plus an Asian country where face is paramount!!!), shading the truth, just ignorant of given a high variety of factors, and possibly not applying to other societies. When did it really start propagating? And where did it really start propagating elsewhere, and especially in the West?

    What’s the R0 there (roughly how many people in an naive population does one patient infect), and in societies were for example coughing up phlegm and spitting it out in crowded public areas is socially unacceptable? The PRC’s non-Chinese Traditional Medicine (CTM) infrastructure and use of it is very very new as these things go (it’s credibly said almost no one had access to it in 1975), for serious stuff it’s essentially one tier, hospitals. Compare to America where we have primary care physician practices, urgent care clinics, then emergency rooms in hospitals, and a deadly serious public health system for over a century and a half.

    Let me also note something very scary that was mentioned in yesterday’s press conference by Robert Redfield, the virologist who’s the head of the US CDC:

    […] I want to be clear the current tests that we developed at CDC, is not, we’re not sure of the natural history of how the virus is isolated. Can you isolate it one day, then, three days later, you can and we are seeing in the cases that are in the hospital. We’ve seen people had detectable virus, then they didn’t have detectable virus. Then three days later, they had detectable virus. We’re using the virus cultures right now and these individuals more to help us learn about this virus. How much asymptomatic carriage in fact is there? So I want people to understand that distinction. We’re not using it as a release criteria, because we don’t know the natural history of how this virus is secreted. And this is what we’re continuing to learn.

    • >Echoing Jon Brase, we have absolutely no idea what either the numerator, Case Fatality Rate, or denominator, total number infected are (details on request).

      It’s true. But it’s also true that the most plausible ways those numbers could get filled in strengthen the bioweapon case rather than weakening it. In particular:

      (1) We can safely take the overseas incidence numbers of symptomatic patients to be pretty accurate. They’re consistent from multiple sources, and some of the sources have excellent records for accuracy and honesty – Hell, I’ll cheerfully say that about the CDC when they’re not talking about firearms.

      (2) Nobody thinks the Chinese are overreporting. If they’re underreporting, the in-China-vs.-overseas divergence is worse and the bioweapon hypothesis looks more supported.

      (3) OK, lets suppose there are unknown but large numbers of asymptomatic carriers out there. The null hypothesis is that the ratio of symptomatic to asymptomatic infectees is the same in China and overseas. If that’s so, then the effect on the plausibility of the bioweapon hypothesis is nil, because total infectee numbers still make the virus look weirdly selective for East Asians.

      (4) Now suppose the asymptomatic-to-symptomatic number is higher in China. Then it’s a justified inference that R0 is higher there and the bioweapon hypothesis is strengthened.

      (5) Only if the asymptomatic-to-symptomatic ratio is higher outside China does the R0 estimate weaken the bioweapon hypothesis.

      • It’s true. But it’s also true that the most plausible ways those numbers could get filled in strengthen the bioweapon case rather than weakening it. In particular:

        […]

        (2) Nobody thinks the Chinese are overreporting. If they’re underreporting, the in-China-vs.-overseas divergence is worse and the bioweapon hypothesis looks more supported.

        They also strengthen the “details on request” bit I mentioned. In short, it is suspected transmission may have begun as early as the beginning of November. While I haven’t studied it hard, let alone run the numbers myself, my intuition on skimming the first item here (a highly recommended site, covers everything including plants, you’ll be surprised we have anything to eat…), is that there’s no way Wuhan went from ~40 infected in the first Official cluster led so quickly to the disaster in a few weeks. The other explanation I guessed when I skimmed it, geeze, a week ago, would be that R0 in the PRC, or at least Wuhan context, is awfully high, and as I noted, there’s reasons to believe that won’t be the case in many other places.

        Mostly I haven’t paid much detailed attention to the Official News and rumors from the PRC, instead waiting on results from more honest countries, like the US which is willing to admit the quality of our testing is very bad right now for whatever reason.

        Perhaps the behavior of this bug is very strange, that’s a place I would focus on if for some reason HIV hiding out in the immune system stuff was inserted into a coronavirus, but judging the plausibility of that on my own would take days starting from a fairly high base. Easier to turtle up and wait to see how it transmits in the US, facts beat theory.

      • >– Hell, I’ll cheerfully say that about the CDC when they’re not talking about firearms.

        Ugh. Unfortunately, I just remembered that the CDC was disgracefully dishonest about AIDS, too.

        They jiggered their disease classifications several times during the AIDS panic to make it appear that the epidemic was getting worse and on the verge of a major breakout into the heterosexual population, well after it had actually peaked. Remember “AIDS does not discriminate?” The amount of fast talk expended to obscure the fact that AIDS had extremely low transmissivity and was only ever a serious threat among gays and IV drug abusers was extreme.

        • That wasn’t even their only false line on AIDS.

          At first they tried to downplay the whole thing and minimize the connection between it and homosexuality and refusing to close bathhouses to avoid “further stigmatizing gays”. It was only after it got so bad that the gay-activists’ fear of death overcame their fear of stigmatization that they started taking it seriously. And then they tried to blame everything on Reagan.

        • > Unfortunately, I just remembered that the CDC was disgracefully dishonest about AIDS, too.

          Be careful; a lot of that unhappened, and people get fretful when you mention, oh, when the head of the CDC appeared on television in the mid ’80s and informed people that AIDS could only be transmitted via homosexual encounters.

        • And their disgraceful behavior about vaping. Implying that vaping was deadly when only vaping certain black market fluids was.

      • >(2) Nobody thinks the Chinese are overreporting. If they’re underreporting, the in-China-vs.-overseas divergence is worse and the bioweapon hypothesis looks more supported.

        Underreporting *what* is the question. If the Chinese are underreporting *deaths*, then, yes, the death:symptomatic ratio is higher than reported in China, and the bioweapon looks more supported. If they’re reporting deaths accurately (because they can’t hide them), but underreporting symptomatic cases (because lying and saying “oh, that guy just had the flu, see, he’s all better now” makes it look like the disease is spreading less), then the death:symptomatic ratio is lower than reported in China.

        >(3) OK, lets suppose there are unknown but large numbers of asymptomatic carriers out there. The null hypothesis is that the ratio of symptomatic to asymptomatic infectees is the same in China and overseas. If that’s so, then the effect on the plausibility of the bioweapon hypothesis is nil, because total infectee numbers still make the virus look weirdly selective for East Asians.

        But there are other factors not connected to genetics (population density, hygiene, more awareness of the disease when it first arrived overseas, Chinese screening of outbound travellers, overseas screening of travelers arriving from China, overseas medical systems not overwhelmed by the disease, or at the most pessimistic, not *yet* overwhelmed, etc) that could cause the disease to spread faster in China than overseas, so I’m not sure there is anything that could provide a really clear indication in favor of the bioweapon hypothesis other than a large discrepancy in Chinese/overseas mortality rates, and there haven’t been enough symptomatic cases overseas to provide a good sample size.

  6. Forgot to mention the two most important ways to avoid catching this or any other similar upper respiratory disease: as you’ve heard many times, wash your hands. And don’t touch your face, transferring viruses to your eyes and nose are the #1 way the “common cold” transmits, and the mouth is added for coronaviruses.

    Training yourself to not do the later unless you’ve just washed your hands is in my experience a long and hard process. I came across a suggestion to drastically speed that up, normal methods will be too slow if “sustained community transmission” starts in your local area:

    start rubbing Thai chili peppers on your finger tips. [That] will stop you touching any place with mucus membrane in few hours.

  7. “I know it sounds like tinfoil-hat territory,”

    Because it is. The corona virus has all the hallmarks of a corona virus jumping to a new species. Just like SARS and MERS.

    Point 1: The higher death rate in China is from the elderly and infirm with other health problems. The virus is still changing, but the early deaths were all people with serious health problems. Foreigners that get the virus are traveling abroad. These tend to be healthy people.

    Point 2: “The Wuhan virus shows signs of having been engineered.”
    If anything, nature does better bio weapons engineering than man. Viruses exchanging DNA is their reason of existence, if there would be any such reason necessary. It is how they jump species in the first place. Unless you find a known RNA sequence, that is written by a human, you will not be able to know how it got there.
    https://www.statnews.com/2020/01/24/dna-sleuths-read-coronavirus-genome-tracing-origins-and-mutations/

    “No, I do not think this was intended for Hong Kong.”

    If the PRC leadership is that stupid, engineering a highly contagious virus to attack a neighboring population with EXTENSIVE exchange of people, they would have been ousted a long time ago. And then the virus surfacing in an animal market in Wuhan?

    I know you have an ideologically based grudge against the Communist leadership of any country. But I get the idea you now are losing your grip on reality.

    • The higher death rate in China is from the elderly and infirm with other health problems. The virus is still changing, but the early deaths were all people with serious health problems. Foreigners that get the virus are traveling abroad. These tend to be healthy people.

      You’re awfully credulous of a freaking Communist party that’s long known for lying about this sort of thing, has been caught in lies about this incident, and has done a huge number of suspicious things, like only getting officially serious when the WHO for some reason decided to continue their first emergency conference. And, oh, threatening to put people in prison for 3-7 years if they don’t follow the Party Line on the disease in their social media postings, with the stark example of the first 8 people “handled” by the police about the disease, before anything was officially recognized. At least one was a doctor….

      That said, these claims by the Chinese Communist Party plus your observation about travelers are credible. But the odds they are the whole story are infinitesimal.

      And then the virus surfacing in an animal market in Wuhan?

      Not the first case, and I’ve heard less authoritatively that’s true for quite a few other of the 40? initial cases, the number 13 comes to mind. But this was during the period the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was insisting there was no human to human transmission.

      And doing things we in the West find stupid? The CCP makes a specialty of that, like Deng’s One Child Policy, which is terminating with extreme prejudice Deng’s economic revolution. Would they be willing to sacrifice ten million of their own people to capture Taiwan including TSMC’s world class semiconductor fab lines intact? If they thought they could keep control over the whole mess, they’d do it without hesitation. If they thought they were going to lose the Mandate of Heaven with an economic crash sooner or later, they’d have powerful motivation, which is aligned with dictator for life Xi’s long running crackdown on dissent, the social credit score system, etc. etc.

      But bioweapons research is not likely in Wuhan’s “visible” BL-4 lab, more likely in their previously existing covert military labs. But an “oops” in legitimate civilian research in one of Wuhans’ BSL-3 or their BSL-4 lab is a definite possibility given what we’ve been able to discern about the start of the infection.

  8. So in looking at the map from WHO we are to believe that Africa and South America are completely free of the disease? What happens when these areas begin to ramp as the outbreak spreads. The ability for Africa to contain this is close to zero. Same with large cities in South America.

    If there has been significant infection of the US population through person to person spread we are going to see it begin to manifest in the next week or so.

    • >What happens when these areas begin to ramp as the outbreak spreads.

      You’d better hope the bioweapon hypothesis is correct, then. Because if this plague does not pass over the houses of people without the ACE II receptor the carnage in the Third World is going to be Biblical.

      • Unless I really misremember the 2nd hand or worse reports on the ACE II receptor papers, it’s not that whites and blacks lack it, it’s that it has significantly higher prevalence in “yellows”. And one of those papers had only one Oriental in its sample set.

        Which could mean little to nothing for transmission if whites and blacks have “enough” of these cell membrane surface proteins. how many times do you have to pick one of the locks on the surface of a cell? (On the other hand, maybe it could effect the rate of inside the body transmission to other cells??) Wikipedia’s references would be a place to start, skimming at 100,000 feet a bunch of them implies it’s vital enough that everyone healthy should have them.

    • So in looking at the map from WHO we are to believe that Africa and South America are completely free of the disease?

      Given the amount of Chinese economic involvement in those places, that stikes me as fishy.

  9. A few thoughts.

    1) How can the virus be “selective for East Asians”? I thought race was just a social construct! /sarc

    2) Whether it originated as a bioweapon or not, it could certainly be used as one now. China has a lot of problematic Uyghurs in camps. Imagine if coronavirus got into them. And of course China has issues with Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and the US. I wouldn’t put it past them to intentionally spread it now. Would we know if they did?

    • Of course, if the virus *is* an escaped bioweapon, it might not be complete.

      It could be the transport mechanism for something else, like a payload designed to give immunity to Chinese while something else kills the outlanders.

  10. OR,
    Pollution, particularly air pollution, in China is horribly bad. They burn coal to support the outsourced industry. Add to this the smoking rates. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_cigarette_consumption_per_capita
    China is #15, USA #69.

    An airborne pathogen would do much better against lungs already weakened by pollution and smoke.

    You could be correct, but there alternative explanations that also fit the data, and rely less on malicious intent, and more on incompetence and neglect.

  11. After Zero Hedge posts it’s report on the odd coincidences involved in the Wuhan Coronavirus issues ( https://tinyurl.com/u5az2nm ), Twitter very suddenly and completely nukes their accounts ( https://tinyurl.com/uuurdnl ). Normally, I would take anything Zero Hedge posts with a very large salt mine, but the sudden nuking of their Twitter makes me suspicious. Especially since nobody wants to offend China (the newest and largest emerging market in history, or so we’re told).

    If the Wuhan Coronavirus was engineered, or at the very least soft-balled by the current Chinese government, things on the ground are going to get very nasty, very fast.

    • >Normally, I would take anything Zero Hedge posts with a very large salt mine, but the sudden nuking of their Twitter makes me suspicious.

      Same here. That’s part of what pushed me towards thinking about the bioweapon hypothesis.

      • No no, that was for the “doxing” where he copied contact info off the guy’s web page. Totally fair an balanced we’re assured.

        My read so far has been “accidental release of known scary” because of the censorship smell from the start. There’s some speculation of it having been a vaccine trial variant; I like that more than “bioweapon” because it fits with mistakes vs malice.

        • There’s some speculation of it having been a vaccine trial variant; I like that more than “bioweapon” because it fits with mistakes vs malice.

          Suppose you could make a bioweapon specific enough to trash Taiwan without depopulating “too much” else of non-Chinese East Asia. Safe to assume it would also do a number on a lot of the PRC’s population, so before you employ it, you do a mass vaccination campaign on your own people. Which has long been considered a major warning sign of such a gambit.

          A wrinkle in that is what to do about PRC inclined Chinese economic elites in those other East Asian countries.

  12. it infected 500 million people around the world,[2] including people on remote Pacific islands and in the Arctic. The death toll is estimated to have been 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million

    I don’t consider Wikipedia authoritative on matters of fact, but it is authoritative on matters of official consensus. Saving you the math, the mortality was 10-20%, officially. That’s 1 in 10 to 1 in 5. For reference, regular flu has a mortality of 0.1-0.2%. Call it 1 in 700.

    In particular, the differential in spread and mortality rates between China and the rest of the world.

    The spread statistics in particular sound like ass-covering to me. The fatalities don’t smell as suspicious but I can hardly prove they’re not; there’s several ways to fudge it.

    Since China was pretending nothing was wrong for some time, it will want to pretend that it didn’t pretend for as long as it did. To ‘correct’ the real case-load to the official timeline, you have to make it look like it’s spreading ferociously. Standard graph manipulation stuff they can learn from any Western climatologist in good standing.

    To get the fatalities up, it would mean they want to pretend there aren’t as many case as there are. As above, it’s not exactly difficult to come up with incentives to do so. It’s harder to hide a body, so you get a high official fatality rate. I understand there’s a lot of low-symptom carriers, meaning this may even be happening by genuine accident. I would guess they’re not actually doing this, but it’s just my guess.

    • Looks like they are fudging the fatalities. Doing it half-ass too. Why take real measurements if you’re just going to lie about it, amirite?

      By the way, the idea of checking only if someone might be lying to you is bad epistemology. Humans will lie to you for fun. Check whether someone might be telling the truth, it’s less common.

      I want to add that the odds of it having escaped from the lab are pretty high. 50/50 at least.
      For either biological or cultural* reasons, Chinese are in love with fraud. They’ll castigate the victim for falling for it, rather than the perpetrator. Predictably this leads to a lot of fraud.
      Someone tried to defraud Nature at the lab. They saw all these weird rituals and thought they were stupid. Nobody is even watching! (Even when they should be.) Why bother, right? Nature was amused by the attempt.

      *(For our purposes it does not matter at all which it is.)

      Also worth considering the possibility that bioweapons aren’t nearly as scary as journalists will tell you they are. Maybe 3% mortality is in fact state of the art. Principle: vary all the variables.

  13. Theory:

    The Chicoms are overpopulated with young males, which means a large portion of them have no prospects for marriage. A large, angry, sexually frustrated group of young males is a recipe for trouble with a capital T.

    Another article I saw indicated that the virus is much more likely to be caught by Asian *males*.

    Could be a measure to ‘thin the herd’ without resorting to traditional methods like war.

    However, it could also be very effective against Taiwan, leaving a supply of females for mainland Chinese.

  14. Thing is, Hong Kong is evidence of weakness on the regime’s part.

    Assuming that the object of the regime’s censorship is rational, or consistent with prior behavior will be wrong if they are independently falling apart from panic. Over reporting a disease could seem reasonable when you are in the middle of a desperate attempt to keep the government from falling.

    Jinping Xi has been selling himself as the only thing between China and a return to the warring states. If he experienced a sudden early death, you would expect all kinds of weird behavior from officials trying to cover that up to preserve their own power. Considering the apparent pressure on the regime, there should be a high expected value for weird seemingly inexplicable behavior that will eventually make sense in hindsight.

    There are a couple of interesting possibilities with regard to the India report. First, India is not an unbiased neutral where China is concerned. We think about India being enemies with Pakistan, but it looks from India’s security organizations that India is also seriously concerned about China. One of India’s security organizations was trained by the KGB. I don’t think India would release a bioweapon in China. I think it possible that they have some scientists without great career prospects that they could get to burn themselves with a fake as part of an attempt to destabilize the PRC. (If it is a bioweapon, and is not of Chinese origin, Iran is the only possibility that comes to mind for crazy enough and potentially able to to do it.) Other possibility is that it is legitimate, and the PRC has influence networks enough in US academia to spend discrediting it. Basic question is how confident you are in India’s scientific culture to be certain that they got it perfectly correct in a high profile early publication, where there is potentially a national ax to grind.

    Okay, yes, the Chinese have been collecting a lot of biotech info with their intelligence gathering. So their politicians are most likely having people working on it in labs, and hence have many opportunities for screw ups that wouldn’t happen in a non-totalitarian society.

    But consider the size of the Chinese population, the food handling, the proximity to animals, that Winnie the wannabe Mao may be repeating some of the Mao era healthcare innovations, and the general communist incompetence and lack of regard for human life. This may well be natural, or mass chicken blood injections, or something.

    In conclusion, I heard about the India report on twitter, got excited, saw the counter-argument, and am now trying to be careful in my thinking.

  15. Interesting hypotheses on the available data, but I tend to think of the discrepancy more likely due to initial under-reporting for maybe the first few weeks by the PRC, and then not wanting to admit that against the harder to conceal mortality rate – that would give the higher ratio.

  16. I’d planned to be lurk-only and avoid posting, but I’ll note without comment that the diplomats/families/others in the Wuhan were evacutated by the U.S. government to March Air Reserve Base where they are now in quarantine. My congress-critter was very unhappy about the fact that he was not kept in the loop. How that might relate to the bioweapon hypothesis I don’t know, but it’s an information tidbit which might be useful.

    Back to lurking.

  17. Is there a non-obvious payoff? Do the different scenarios:
    1) Naturally occurring event enabled by unsavory local practices, then made worse and covered up by Communist bureaucratic incompetence, general indifference to human life and pathological dishonesty.
    2) General research accidentally released, again with the poor response and dishonest reporting.
    3) Release of an actual, if not fully cooked, bioweapon.

    lead to any meaningful insights or predictions?

  18. I’m not a biologist, but my layman’s intuition suggests that a virus jumping species has a decent chance of being more effective in the population it initially infects than in different populations in the world.

  19. I’m highly skeptical. First, the ‘engineered’ claim has been fairly solidly rebutted. Second, I see merit in the point raised above about differences in fatality being due to whole population exposure in China, vs healthy foreign travelers exposed. Third, higher transmission rate in China could be explained by a combination of spread before precautions were put in place and bad personal hygiene in China (SARS had a similar distribution of cases between China/Hong Kong and areas outside China). On the separate question of likelihood of pandemic I too am concerned abut the lack of reported cases in Africa. Given the high level of Chinese involvement there a lack of reported cases suggests the possibility of a rising tide of unreported cases.

  20. Another simple reason to distrust the claim that there is a difference in infectivity is that the situation in China is very different to that outside. There is much more in the way of public health infrastructure to mobilise in countries not currently fighting a massive outbreak.

    If you have a fixed personnel budget and limited set of containment techniques to use, it’s much easier to ensure no one who might be contagious manages to infect others when there are only five cases. You can respond to the slightest sign of symptoms and try to track down every person they interacted with. It also helps that coronavirus is less infectious during the asymptomatic phase compared to when the patient is coughing and sneezing everywhere, by which point they are isolated.

    On the other hand, China currently has so many infections that they can barely respond to the severe cases. There is no way they could track down and limit the spread of every infection.

    Combined with the points about travellers being likely to be younger and healthier, I don’t think you need to claim that the virus behaves particularly differently amongst different ethnic populations.

    • Turns out that fecal transmission is apparently a thing with this.

      Allegedly there is a Lancet study claiming to show that the fish market story of initial transmission is false.

      • Turns out that fecal transmission is apparently a thing with this.

        Well, so modern sanitation should help. Unfortunately, there is a US city with increasingly 3rd world infrastructure, and also literal sh*t on the streets that’s also home to the airport that handles the largest amount of traffic from China.

  21. Another is that the Wuhan virus is missing some traits you’d want in a production bioweapon, like […] a reliable vaccine. If the PRC had one they would surely have deployed it by now.

    It’s 100% tinfoil hat territory but, how do we know that there isn’t a vaccine (or perhaps there is only a small amount of the vaccine… just enough for the loyal CPC members)? I could easily envisage scenarios where there’s “no vaccine” because there’s only a limited supply or because it’s counter-productive to give your target a vaccine.

    • Also, if this really is an accidentally released bioweapon, even if they have a vaccine, they might not want to release it to avoid awkward questions about how they developed one so quickly.

  22. I can’t rule this out as impossible, but many of the attributes you are talking about don’t hold much water.

    The main issue with HIV (the virus which causes AIDS) (from memory of college-level A&P class, much detail lacking) is that it specifically infects the T4 helper cell. The immune system has two separate control channels. Unfortunately, they both run through the T4-helper cell. So the body has the option of increasing T4 helper cell production, providing a much greater cell population to be infected and hijacked. Or reduce the T4 helper cell production. Either way, the immune system ceases to be able to effectively respond to other opportunistic infections. Though there’s a lot of value in studying every other element of the disease, I can’t see other elements as being that useful in a bio-weapon.

    Another issue is that it is highly likely that the number of people who have been infected in China is much larger. But between pollution, smoking like chimneys, and routine cold/flu infections, a lot more people have probably been infected and recovered without ever being counted in the official stats. So it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that it’s a lot less deadly than people are projecting, though I have low confidence in this prediction.

    Finally, differing mortality rates isn’t surprising. Consider the differing mortality rates between domestic and foreign health workers in the Ebola crisis. Best-practice 1st-world medical care, even if only supportive care for symptoms, can do a lot to increase survival rates. But that’s what happens when you can throw a dozen highly-trained people around the clock at every single patient.

  23. Second those who say it’s extremely unlikely this is bioweapon. Like, very, very, very unlikely.

    However I don’t understand why, IF you think it’s a bioweapon (please, please note this big IF), why would you think this was designed by CHinese. Much more rational would be that this was bioweapon designed by someone else, hostile to Chinese; that Chinese spies took this virus; and then it escaped.

    But this just a minor remark. It’s not a bioweapon, period.

  24. On further thought it seems to me that the fatality rate (2% at most and likely less than that) argues against a bio-weapon. That’s too low for an actual weaponized disease.

    • >On further thought it seems to me that the fatality rate (2% at most and likely less than that) argues against a bio-weapon. That’s too low for an actual weaponized disease.

      Which is why I never thought it was a production bioweapon. Experimental strain that got loose is still compatible with the facts, though less likely since the Indian paper alleging evidence of engineering now looks mistaken.

  25. If the hong-kong-fluey turns out to be an engineered strain that pulverizes the chicom population…..try to imagine how schadenfreudelicious that will be

  26. I don’t think the statistics are good enough (i.e. consistent methodology) to make deductions about it being a bioweapon, especially which history giving the likelihood that this is another SARS-like zoonosis. And, the virologists whom I follow are treating this as just another example of what we saw with SARS and are still seeing with MERS – i.e. not an unusual pattern at all.

    The other two reasons were already shot down by other commenters.

  27. My hotshot bio friend says this racial selectivity is expected from coronaviruses, it has been a characteristic of past ones. This ethnic group happens to be more vulnerable.

    It is cause for reassurance as it reduces the effective vulnerable population to much less than the whole world.

    Whether or not it’s from a bioweapon lab, the targeting is not the result of deliberate tuning to target this ethnic group.

    • >My hotshot bio friend says this racial selectivity is expected from coronaviruses, it has been a characteristic of past ones.

      If there is research supporting this claim I shall be extremely interested to read it.

      • I gather the entirely? theoretical research is still very sketchy, but you want to look for papers relating to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 or ACE2.

        It’s been found to be the (or a?; as usual, expect half the papers you read to be wrong) cell membrane surface protein receptor for SARS, and is believed to play the same role with 2019-nCoV. I know there’s one paper with 8 subjects who donated lung tissue as part of a lung transplant, one Asian, and he expressed a lot more ACE2 than the other subjects in relevant tissues. It’s by no means clear this makes a difference, or how much, in transmission, since everyone has ACE2, and SARS certainly didn’t have any troubles transmitting to 257 people in Toronto, although I don’t know the racial breakdown of those patients.

      • It’s guaranteed that some virus will be racially selective and mutate often on that selectivity. The question is merely whether that virus is corona.
        Getting that virus wrong? Seems like an odd error to make. No incentive, and nobody but me would realize in advance that some virus would be racially selective. It can happen, but only by accident.

  28. I think we have a prediction that would at least prove it was altered and that it came out of a lab:

    If the bats start dying from it. Of course, I have no idea of the likelihood of a human infecting a bat. But bats can handle the normal coronavirus.

  29. I don’t quite follow the reasoning in your Taiwan hypothesis. Why is a bioweapon that spares non-Asians valuable in that scenario? If you’d said the Russians did that, it’d make sense – they want to avoid a lot of friendly-fire casualties when their people get there, but the Chinese would seem to be equally well-served by a broad-spectrum disease like flu or smallpox.

    The most plausible reason I see China deliberately creating such a thing is if they suspect their enemies have something similar and they want to get a head start on developing countermeasures. But on balance I think the official story – poor hygiene around a dead animal – is probably likelier still.

  30. One is the obvious question of why the PRC would design a bioweapon genetically targeted at its own people.

    Why did they murder 77 million of their own people under Mao?

    They’re known to be True Believers in all manner of Malthusian bullshit. Why wouldn’t they have a virus ready to go to thin out the peasants?

  31. A null hypothesis:
    If a bad plague/virus pops up at random in the human population, it’s most likely to pop up in the region of the world with over half the Earth’s population. Add likelihood for concentration into cities.

    The Black Death fits. This fits. Any given flu fits.

    Ebola doesn’t. That Soviet outbreak of weaponized Equine Encephalitis didn’t.

    • >How does this affect your assessment?

      If those figures are real, the lethality is far higher than reported. That stengthens the case for bioweapon.

  32. I’m going with the idea that it’s a naturally evolved virus.

    Still, a bioweapon doesn’t have to kill. Surely I’m not the person here who remembers Pohl’s The Cool War— a disease that just makes a lot of people sick can be an effective way of weakening a country.

    And just for the hell of it…. Let’s try out a woke/racism hypothesis. A Chinese lab is experimenting with creating diseases. Their experimental subjects are Chinese because that’s who’s convenient and besides, they’re the default human. So, there doesn’t have to be a strategic goal.

    I’m still betting on natural disease.

    • >I’m still betting on natural disease.

      Unfortunarely, the odds on “bioweapon” have gone up. A leak on a Tencent website has probably given us a look at the …oh, crap, this needs another blog post.

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