Did the Covid virus originate in Thailand?

A new WSJ article suggests that they are beginning to zero in on the origin of the Covid-19 virus:

At least four recent studies have identified coronaviruses closely related to the pandemic strain in bats and pangolins in Southeast Asia and Japan, a sign that these pathogens are more widespread than previously known and that there was ample opportunity for the virus to evolve.

Another new study suggests that a change in a single amino acid in a key component of the virus enabled or at least helped the virus become infectious in humans. Amino acids are organic compounds that form proteins.

Public-health officials say it is critical to identify the origin of the pandemic to take steps to avert future outbreaks, though it may take years to do so. These latest pieces of research add to evidence that the virus, called SARS-CoV-2, likely originated in bats and then evolved naturally to infect humans, possibly through an intermediary animal.

The studies also help explain why members of a WHO team that in February completed a four-week mission to Wuhan—the Chinese city where the first known cases of Covid-19 were found—advocate searching for the origin of the pandemic in other countries in addition to China, particularly those along its border in Southeast Asia. . . .

Using the test, he and a team of researchers found strong neutralizing antibodies that blocked SARS-CoV-2 in bats and a pangolin in Thailand. That likely means the animals were exposed to a coronavirus similar to the pandemic version, said Dr. Wang. The team also found a coronavirus closely resembling the pandemic strain in bats in a cave in eastern Thailand.

Certain nationalistic politicians tried to smear China by labelling Covid the “China virus” or the “Kung flu”, before all the evidence was in. If this new information is correct, should we now call it the Siam flu?

It seems increasingly unlikely that the virus came from a Chinese lab, although that hypothesis has certainly not been definitively ruled out. (The WHO team did not have access to all of the information it needed):

Chinese scientists reported soon after the pandemic began that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had a virus whose genome is a 96.2% match with that of the Covid-19 virus. But the difference between the two viruses would have been too great for researchers to successfully engineer the pandemic virus, said Dr. Wang, who is an expert in bat-borne viruses.

“It would explode your calculator,” he said of the difference. “If the best scientists all worked for me for the rest of my life, I would not be able to create it.”

Nor would it have been straightforward to figure out the mutation in the virus that Dr. Weger-Lucarelli and his colleagues found. “There is no literature, at least that no one has published, showing that this site in coronaviruses is very important for human infection,” Dr. Weger-Lucarelli said.

The newly found coronaviruses support the argument that “nature developed this virus without requiring any human intervention,” said Stanley Perlman, a University of Iowa virologist who has studied coronaviruses for four decades but wasn’t involved in the latest studies. He serves on the Lancet Covid-19 Commission set up to speed solutions to the pandemic.

This is from another recent WSJ article:

Robert Garry, a virologist at the Tulane University School of Medicine who was involved in that research, said he and other colleagues had initially considered the possibility of a leak or accident from a laboratory, but ultimately deemed it “nearly impossible.”

PS. A while back I linked to an excellent set of Phillip Lemoine posts on China’s role in the pandemic. Now he has produced a powerful critique of “lockdowns”. (I put the term ‘lockdown’ in quotes because it’s a rather vague concept, which covers both actual lockdowns and some milder interventions.) I’ve always felt that lockdowns should only be used under very extreme circumstances. In my view, our big policy mistakes were in the areas of masks, testing and especially vaccines. I’m happy for the British, but why couldn’t we have done the same?