The novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2 as it's officially called, is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. As it happens, the city is home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where, since 2014, research has been taking place into other viruses in the coronavirus family of viruses (SARS-CoV-2 is one of multiple such viruses). Further, the laboratory was known to house research bats, a possible carrier of the virus before it spilled over into humans.
And while U.S. spy agencies have, for now, ruled out the possibility that the novel coronavirus was deliberately engineered in that laboratory, the possibility appears to remain open that perhaps the virus escaped unintentionally, such as through an infected employee.
"It's a possibility, though not the most likely possibility," one U.S. official said of the hypothesis.
The Chinese government has steadfastly denied that the virus originated in the Wuhan lab. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian pointed to the World Health Organization and has determined that the virus didn't emerge from the Wuhan virology lab, and saying that the idea that the virus escaped from that lab is "without scientific evidence."
U.S. President Donald Trump, for his part, appears to not be convinced. Trump, who has repeatedly referred to the pathogen as the "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus," said last week that "a lot of strange things are happening" regarding the origins of COVID-19, and that U.S. investigations were ongoing.
Now, for the first time, a person with a direct affiliation with the lab is speaking out about allegations that the pandemic originated within the laboratory's walls.
Yuan Zhiming, the vice director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said that his facility follows strict safety protocols to the extent that it's not possible that the virus could have gotten out.
"We have a strict regulatory regime and code of conduct of research, so we are confident," he said, adding, "there is no way this virus came from us."
Yuan called suspicions that the virus escaped from his lab a "conspiracy theory" intended to "confuse people."
Meanwhile, the laboratory is actively involved in responding to the virus that it has been accused of unleashing. The facility has turned over the virus' genetic sequence to the United Nations and The World Health Organization to aid in the development of vaccines and treatments.