CNBC Reports On Rumors Inside China: Coronavirus Could Be A Bioweapons Lab Leak Or Created By Americans For Profit

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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Two-thirds of the world could catch the Wuhan coronavirus. CNBC reports rumors circulating that the virus escaped a bioweapons lab or was created by Americans for profit. People wear masks in a subway station, in Hong Kong, Feb. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Two-thirds of the world could catch the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, and rumors are circulating that the virus was man-made. 

Wuhan is home to a wet market, not uncommon in China, where wild and exotic animals including wolf pups, otters and koalas are sold for food. The Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan was closed on Jan. 1 after it was identified as the starting point for the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

However, Wuhan is also home to the National Biosafety Lab — China’s only P4 lab. P4 labs operate at the highest biosafety level. They often work with pathogens that are easily transmissible, cause severe or fatal illnesses, and often have no known vaccines or treatments, according to Caixin, a Beijing media group.

CNBC’s Eunice Yoon and Joe Kernen on Squawk Box discussed rumors going around China that the virus could be man-made. 

“I think the vast majority of people still believe that it originated from the wet market,” Yoon said. “But there are plenty of theories out there that perhaps because Wuhan does have a lab there and it’s a P4 lab … that maybe this was man-made.”

Yoon said a biochemical weapons expert from the Chinese military had been at the Wuhan lab to look at testing kits and try to expedite them.

“There’s a theory that it could have been part of a bioweapons program,” Yoon said. “I also heard a counter-theory that the Americans have created this and the reason for that is that the Americans want to make money off of the Chinese by creating a problem here and then creating a solution in the form of a vaccine or a treatment.”

China has a history with dangerous viruses escaping from a lab.

The SARS virus escaped from a high-containment Beijing research lab at least three times, causing an outbreak in China, the New Scientist and other media reported in 2004. A grad student who worked for two weeks at the Institute of Virology of the Chinese Center for Disease Control in Beijing developed SARS and a postdoctoral student in the same lab became ill weeks later.

This raised concerns about other viruses handled in a similar way.

The coronavirus could affect 60 percent of the world’s population or more if it gets out of control, Hong Kong health official Gabriel Leung said. That’s more than 4 billion people out of 7 billion.

Leung is not alone in his estimate, Bloomberg reported.

As many as 50,000 people may be infected each day in China, according to Neil Ferguson, a researcher at Imperial College London.

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Two-thirds of the world’s population could catch it, says Ira Longini, an adviser to the World Health Organization from the University of Florida. Longini tracked studies of the virus’s transmissibility in China and based his estimate on data that shows that each infected person normally transmits the disease to two to three other people.

Quarantines may slow the spread but they haven’t stopped it, Longini said. The infection is relatively mild in some people, and, lacking rapid testing, it’s hard to track its spread.

It will take 18 months for the first coronavirus vaccine to become available, said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization.