a work of fiction... right?
As the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 continued its global spread in the summer of 2021, a small group of scientists makes a plan: explore new variants of Covid, some of which may out-compete others.
They develop a hypothesis and a set of protocols, involving serial passaging in mouse models in a highly contained (BSL-3) lab at a university research center. After a few months of work, they have generated new variants, naturally mutating within the mice. Some appear to be highly transmissible but result in less disease burden. They begin drafting the results for publication and a few of them start getting sick. Delta is widely circulating, but they’re vaccinated. It’s hard to pinpoint the source of the infection. They’ve followed biosafety protocols to a tee, haven’t they?
They probably didn’t plan to allow its escape, but escape it did. As we’ve seen, this variant is extremely transmissible. These scientists may end up being the true heroes of this pandemic - they generated a self-replicating, living inoculant.
Perhaps they were in Europe, China, or in South Africa. Experimental work like this could be done for $100,000 and in a period of 2-3 months, with a team of five or less. Would they disclose the lab escape to the world immediately, or wait and see? It’s hard to say.
This is a work of pure speculation, but there is a modicum of evidence, first raised by this paper, outlining a mouse origin of Omicron. If indeed Covid went from humans to mice and back again, we should see evidence of Omicron in mice populations - let’s look. Are there other viruses that have migrated from humans, to mice, to humans again? Let’s check.