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Opinion
Stephen Mihm

The History of Lab Leaks Has Lots of Entries

Smallpox, anthrax and influenzas have escaped facilities — sometimes with deadly consequences.

The origins of Covid-19 might be difficult to prove.

The origins of Covid-19 might be difficult to prove.

Photographer: Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden announced this week that the intelligence community saw two possible origins of the Covid-19 outbreak: “Human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” He also ordered a new investigation to “bring us closer to a definitive conclusion.”

No matter where the inquiry leads, the history of lab safety shows, at the very least, that leaks of pathogens have happened in the past — sometimes with deadly consequences. It also shows that even transparent, thorough investigations into the origins of an outbreak can end in uncertainty.