Yes, Lab Accidents Happen

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Here is another long, worth-your-time discussion of the origin of the virus, this time in the New York Times.

This passage notes how lab incidents are relatively common:

Nearly every SARS case since the original epidemic has been due to lab leaks — six incidents in three countries, including twice in a single month from a lab in Beijing. In one instance, the mother of a lab worker died.

In 2007, foot-and-mouth disease, which can devastate livestock and caused a massive crisis in Britain in 2001, escaped from a drainage pipe leak at an English lab with the highest biosafety rating, BSL-4.

Even the last known person who died of smallpox was someone infected because of a lab incident in Britain in 1978.

In its first published survey of the reporting systems in American labs working with dangerous pathogens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 reported 11 laboratory-acquired infections across six years, often in BSL-3 labs — the category of safety reserved for pathogens like tuberculosis. In each instance, the exposure was not realized or reported until lab workers became infected.

In January 2014, the C.D.C. contaminated a benign flu virus sample with deadly A(H5N1) but didn’t discover the danger until months later. And in June 2014, it mistakenly sent improperly deactivated anthrax bacteria to labs, potentially exposing at least 62 C.D.C. employees who worked with the samples without protective gear. One month later, vials of live smallpox virus were found in a storage room at the National Institutes of Health.

In October 2014, after that string of high-profile incidents, the United States paused its funding of new gain-of-function research, with few exceptions. The moratorium was lifted in 2017.