The virus escaped from a Chinese lab
This one at least has the benefit of being plausible. It is true that the original epicenter of the epidemic, the Chinese city of Wuhan, also hosts a virology institute where researchers have been studying bat coronaviruses for a long time. One of these researchers, Shi Zhengli, a prominent virologist who spent years collecting bat dung samples in caves and was a lead expert on the earlier SARS outbreak, was sufficiently concerned about the prospect that she spent days frantically checking lab records to see if anything had gone wrong. She admits breathing a “sigh of relief” when genetic sequencing showed that the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus did not match any of the viruses sampled and studied in the Wuhan Institute of Virology by her team.
However, the sheer coincidence of China’s lead institute studying bat coronaviruses being in the same city as the origin of the COVID outbreak has proven too juicy for conspiracists to resist. The idea was seeded originally via a slick hour-long documentary produced by the Epoch Times, an English-language news outlet based in the United States with links to the Falun Gong religious cult that has long been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Epoch Times insists on calling COVID “the CCP virus” in all its coverage. The theory has now tipped into the mainstream, being reported in the Washington Post, the Times (UK) and many other outlets.