Fact Check: There Is NO Evidence China Created, Then Unleashed Coronavirus As Bioweapon

Fact Check

  • by: Mary Acosta
Fact Check: There Is NO Evidence China Created, Then Unleashed Coronavirus As Bioweapon Not Proven

Did China's Communist government create the novel coronavirus in a laboratory and release it into the world as a deadly bioweapon? No, there is no evidence to back up this claim: While President Trump said on April 15, 2020, that the White House was aware of reports saying the virus started in a lab in Wuhan, China, there is nothing to substantiate claims that it was a purposeful effort by China to create a bioweapon.

Also, official confirmation of the virus's origin may take years, and most scientists believe it originated in animals at a market in Wuhan -- most likely bats -- late last year.

The claim that the virus was lab-created as a bioweapon apppeared in a nearly hour-long video (archived here) by The Epoch Times posted on Facebook by WTO TV on April 10, 2020. The post containing the video, with more than 600 shares, opened:

The CCP virus, which originated from China, has rampaged through the world and caused more than 95,808 deaths, infecting at least 1.6 million.

The true number of deaths and infections is unknown due to the underreporting of cases from mainland China.

In the new documentary presented by The Epoch Times and NTD, Epoch Times investigative reporter Joshua Philipp takes an in-depth look at the progression of the pandemic from January to April and leads us on a journey of discovery to bring the truth behind the matter to light.

From the Huanan Seafood Market in Hubei Province to the scandals at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, from long-running experiments on viruses to military takeovers, suspicious activities arise from every corner. Through vigorous investigations and the piecing together of hidden information, the documentary will unearth a more complete understanding of the situation surrounding the rise of this pandemic.

Suspicions uncovered from official reports and publicly available information also sprouted more questions, leading to surprising findings and inquiries.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of this writing:

Facebook screenshot

The Epoch Times video opens with a lightning strike, ominous music, and the assertion that the coronavirus was almost certainly "laboratory-driven."

In an attempt to prove that theory, the 55-minute video delves into the work of Chinese scientist Shi Zhengli, a scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who has been studying bat coronaviruses for 16 years. Last month, Scientfic American described how Shi was a key player in the fight against the outbreak, because of her expertise and years of experience.

But The Epoch Times video presents Shi as a mysterious and controversial figure, suggesting -- without any evidence -- that she and her team were working on a new synthetic virus based on SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) that could cause infection in humans. This allegation comes at about 21:50 of the video.

There is no evidence that Shi has been, or is, involved in any kind of nefarious research. In fact, The New York Times reported Shi has been warning about the threat of pandemics for years, and she and her team revealed 15 years ago that SARS is a bat virus that has been transmitted to people.

While the video -- which includes dubious soundbites from various "experts" -- claims to be presenting scientific evidence, it concludes with this opinionated and unsubstantiated conclusion from reporter Joshua Philipp: "I believe viruses can't survive where hearts have compassion."

The Epoch Times' YouTube channel, with 149,000 subscribers, is filled with stories pushing a range of conspiracies -- most of them focusing on China.

The closest thing to backing up The Epoch Times' reporting is a story out from Fox News on April 15, that still said the novel coronavirus was not a bioweapon. Based on sources, Fox reported:

COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan laboratory not as a bioweapon, but as part of China's effort to demonstrate that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than the capabilities of the United States, multiple sources who have been briefed on the details of early actions by China's government and seen relevant materials tell Fox News.

This may be the "costliest government coverup of all time," one of the sources said.

The sources believe the initial transmission of the virus was bat-to-human, and that "patient zero" worked at the laboratory, then went into the population in Wuhan.

Asked by Fox News' John Roberts about the reporting, President Trump remarked at Wednesday's coronavirus press briefing, "More and more we're hearing the story...we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation."

Documents detail early efforts by doctors at the lab and early efforts at containment. The Wuhan wet market initially identified as a possible point of origin never sold bats, and the sources tell Fox News that blaming the wet market was an effort by China to deflect blame from the laboratory, along with the country's propaganda efforts targeting the U.S. and Italy.

The Epoch Times, which calls itself an "independent" voice in the news media, promises "integrity and truthfulness" in its reporting on its Twitter feed, which has over 225,000 followers. But the paper, its online edition and other media have taken much criticism.

Media Bias/Fact Check has this to say about The Epoch Times, which is described as being a far-right publication:

Overall, we rate The Epoch Times borderline Questionable and Right Biased based on editorial positions that consistently favor the right. We also rate them factually Mixed due to the publication of pseudoscience and the promotion of pro-Trump propaganda and conspiracy theories as well as failed fact checks.

The New York Times also describes the outlet as anti-Communist and pro-Trump:

The Epoch Times is one of the most mysterious fixtures of the pro-Trump media universe. It was started 20 years ago as a print newspaper by practitioners of Falun Gong, the persecuted Chinese spiritual practice. In recent years, the paper has made inroads into top Republican circles. Mr. Trump and his advisers have shared Epoch Times articles on their social media accounts, and last year, Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law, sat for an interview with an Epoch Times editor. Representative Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, called it "our favorite paper."

For its part, the Facebook page of WTO TV, which hosted the video, is new, with its first post coming just on April 6, four days before the page posted the video by The Epoch Times.

Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Mary Acosta

Mary Acosta, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is a former copy editor at CNN International.

She was based at the network’s headquarters in Atlanta. Prior to working at CNNI she was a writer, writer-producer, and copy editor at CNN. She was part of teams that won Emmy Awards for coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terror attacks.

Read more about or contact Mary Acosta

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