There are sequences that match better as far away as Vietnam. (Really, Jon. You’re barking.) The Australian scientist who worked there, and was first to isolate and grow the virus outside of China doesn’t think so.
Reality is, that it is impossible in today’s world to obtain the data on where or how something evolved in geographic terms beyond a very wide identification of probable continent. We don’t live inside Star Trek with magic tricorders that see everything. We do not monitor and sequence everything in every patient that comes in for treatment everywhere. Even then, there would be gaps. All we can do is generate relationship trees and see how far great the distances are between sequences. (Note: We could do that sequencing, and we should, because it’s the foundation of a good biodefense system. We will get clobbered someday by a real bioweapon that will make COVID-19 seem like a tea party.)
Viruses mutate. RNA viruses mutate faster. This is a continuous process, and it is why we often call viruses quasi-species. Even within one host, you can find variants.
Something different about COVID-19 is that it probably establishes persistent infections in some people.
“…Patients with COVID-19 can develop loss of smell and/or taste. Unfortunately, the pathophysiology of these alterations remains unclear. Here, de Melo et al. examined the olfactory mucosa in patients with COVID-19 reporting loss of smell and detected SARS-CoV-2 viral particles and inflammation in multiple cell types in the olfactory neuroepithelium, including olfactory sensory neurons. Hamster infected with SARS-CoV-2 developed loss of smell that was associated with dissemination of the virus in the olfactory mucosa and CNS and with neuroinflammation. In four patients who developed persistent loss of smell, the authors detected lasting SARS-CoV-2 presence in the olfactory mucosa, suggesting that the prolonged relapsing anosmia in patients with COVID-19 could be due to persistent viral infection. …”
Why is persistent infection important? Because that gives the virus an opportunity to try out lots of variants. It has more lottery tickets to win its reproductive megamillions jackpot. Most likely, those variants will be less harmful to people, and create versions of the “common cold” that circulate with much lower mortality. The worst case scenario is virtually always with a virus that establishes persistence in some animal species that has identical or similar receptor for something. When it jumps, and is well adapted, it can be much more pathological. The new species has no experience with it.
So this virus probably was able to persistently infect some other animal first, and then it was able to persistently infect some humans, somewhere. They would be able to wander around giving variants to different people until — wham! Jackpot! And off we go to the races.
There is also the phenomenon of biological warfare between mammalian species (mostly mammalian) to think about. Persistent infection can help protect a species in which it occurs by infecting other species that prey on it, or damage its habitat. For instance, a number of rodent species carry plague. This kills some of their predators, like mountain lions. HIV probably originated from bush meat of chimpanzees or green monkeys. Ebola is carried by something out in the jungle. Malaria makes its victims too weak and listless to fight mosquitos, which can then feast without getting slapped. Dengue does the same thing.
If you look around you, the European disease pool is what cleared out North America for Europeans to settle in. Mostly it was influenza, adenoviruses, coronaviruses, rhinoviruses. Smallpox killed as well, but there were diseases that gave Europeans sniffles that killed 95%+ of native villages. Smallpox had higher survival rates, although it was a terrible disease.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) fiddled with their database access to outsiders starting in August of 2019. This has been cited as a reason to believe that they may be hiding something they knew about the pandemic to come. It is barely plausible, however, there are plenty of other reasons why an academic lab might do that. And the fact that the USA had been helping fund this lab for 15 years did not give the USA ownership of sequences, nor right to even see them all, prior to publication. This preprint lays out the timing and multiple reasons clearly. In addition, academics need to not allow other labs around the world to scoop them and get the credit after they do the heavy lifting. To this, we must add China’s normal state of paranoia, and the context of the Trump administration’s anti-China drumbeat. It would not surprise me at all if China’s government put out the directive to close things up to put pressure on the Trump administration, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology did as it was told, but the scientists didn’t like it.
The bottom line here is that we have no evidence of a link between the Wuhan facility and COVID-19. What we have is innuendo based on reactions of the Chinese government. The Chinese government reacts that way to everything — transparency is not a value — it’s the exception. Again, at the time of the outbreak, Trump had been pounding on “bad China” for a while. The US had fomented and was supporting the students who ran the Hong Kong protest riots. Bannon had called for the US Navy to blow away the built-up islands in the South China Sea. China was being baited, and politically, they knew that this incident was likely to be turned against them. So, China did what they do so well —close down, circle the wagons and get paranoid.
China lucked out under Trump, because the Democrat strategists chose to paint Trump as an idiot for trying to blame China. So that thread got buried — for a while.
Biden, however, has embraced the Trumpist foreign policy on China, and the Republican strategists haven’t opposed him. Biden declared his intent to contain China and stop them from getting stronger at any cost. He has taken Trump’s provocations of China and poured gasoline on it. This has generated more racist attacks against Asians, but this time it’s sold to the “politically correct” “woke” set to feel good about it.
The best lack all conviction, , while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
So now this meritless political hack job on the Wuhan lab has been resuscitated. You see, the same guy who wrote the justification for the Iraq WMD wrote the most recent article about Wuhan. That indicates that this is a “project” to manufacture consent.
The reality of the Chinese Lab origin of COVID-19, is that I have done searches of the sequences to look at how well they match, and I see no evidence that this COVID-19 is closely enough related to the bat sequences to be plausible as lab origin. We mostly know what those bat sequences were. The US was supporting much of the research there in Wuhan in a collaborative effort, and those sequences were properly deposited in Genbank. (Supporting that research was the smart thing to do.)