Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, has repeated an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that has spread from small-town China to the right-wing news media in the United States: The new coronavirus originated in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the outbreak’s center.
In a television interview on Fox News on Sunday, Mr. Cotton suggested that a dearth of information about the origins of the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, raised more questions than answers.
“We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that,” Mr. Cotton said on the program Sunday Morning Futures. He then raised the possibility that the virus originated in a “biosafety level-4 super laboratory.” Such laboratories are used for research into potentially deadly infectious diseases.
Updated Feb. 10, 2020
What is a Coronavirus?
It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
How contagious is the virus?
According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
How worried should I be?
While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
Who is working to contain the virus?
World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
What if I’m traveling?
The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
How do I keep myself and others safe?
Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
“Now, we don’t have evidence that this disease originated there but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all,” he added.
The Chinese authorities say the outbreak began in a market in Wuhan where wild animals were sold. The city is also home to a biochemical laboratory.
After receiving criticism for lending credence to what has been largely considered a fringe theory, the senator took to Twitter to say he did not necessarily think the virus was an “engineered bioweapon.”
That idea, he said, was just one of several hypotheses that included the possibility that the outbreak was a “deliberate release.”
He also said it was possible that the virus spread naturally, “but almost certainly not from the Wuhan food market.”