The Washington Post: Opinion

Opinion: How to investigate the lab-leak theory without inflaming anti-Asian hate

A woman holds a sign supporting an end to hate directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), as seen at the Logan Square Monument in Chicago on March 20. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

By Leana S. Wen
June 1, 2021 at 4:05 p.m. EDT

The lab-leak hypothesis has emerged as one of two leading theories for how covid-19 began. As a physician, I believe it’s crucial to understand the origin of the pandemic and prevent future ones. As a Chinese American, I worry that unproven speculation could increase racist attacks against Chinese people and further fuel anti-Asian hate.

This is not a hypothetical concern. Since the beginning of the pandemic, people of Asian descent have been blamed for coronavirus, and harassed and assaulted as a result. In Texas, a man allegedly stabbed three members of an Asian American family, including children ages 2 and 6, because they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus.” A medical student was assaulted near her hospital in New York City, with the perpetrator shouting “Chinese virus.” In Boston, a doctor taking care of covid-19 patients was followed as she left the hospital by someone who shouted profanities and asked her why the Chinese were killing people. According to the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate, more than 6,600 anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander incidents have been reported between March 2020 and March 2021.

President Donald Trump fanned the flames with his repeated use of “China virus,” “Chinese plague” and “kung flu.” He and his allies claimed the virus was “sent over from China.” Research has found that the proliferation of these terms over social media directly led to a rise in racist posts against Asian people. It’s not hard to imagine that increased rhetoric about careless or even reckless Chinese scientists could provoke more acts of harm against AAPI communities.