Monday, 4 January 2021

 

Wuhan lab leaked virus: US

Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China's Hubei province.
Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China's Hubei province.
  • By Didi Tang
  • 2 hours ago 

There is now strong evidence that the coronavirus was leaked from a Chinese biological weapons research laboratory, rather than developing in a livestock “wet market”, a senior US official said.

Matthew Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser, claimed in a Zoom call to politicians around the world that there was “a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus”.

Mr Pottinger, a former US Marines officer, said: “Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story.” He said that the pathogen may have escaped through a “leak or an accident”.

He said intelligence showed that the virus had been leaked from the heavily guarded Wuhan Institute of Virology, 11 miles from the market.

He was speaking on the eve of a trip to China by a group of experts from the World Health Organisation to investigate the source of the coronavirus, which critics claim will be a whitewash.

“MPs around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,” Mr Pottinger said.

An aerial photo of the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province.
An aerial photo of the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province.

Iain Duncan Smith, the British Tory MP, who attended the Zoom meeting, told the Daily Mail that Mr Pottinger’s comments showed the US was doubling down on the theory that the virus came from a leak at the laboratory. The US is said to have been talking to a whistleblower from the Wuhan institute. Wuhan reported the first coronavirus cases in December 2019. Many of them were linked to a wet market, but the existence of a bio laboratory that works on coronaviruses in the city has fuelled speculation over a possible leak.

“It is unfortunate that we have been targeted as a scapegoat for the origin of the virus,” Wang Yanyi, director of the virology institute, said last year. “Any person would inevitably feel angry or misunderstood being subject to unwarranted or malicious accusations while carrying out research and related work in the fight against the virus.”

Workers next to a cage with mice inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan.
Workers next to a cage with mice inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan.

Shi Zhengli, a virologist at the institute and known as the “bat woman” for her work related to coronaviruses, said that she would welcome WHO experts.

China has tightly controlled its own investigation into the origin of the virus.

Late last year, foreign journalists were barred from visiting an abandoned copper mine in the southwest of the country, where the closest known relative of Sars-Cov-2 was discovered in 2013 by Chinese virologists and taken back to the Wuhan laboratory. A bat research team had samples taken on a recent visit to the mine confiscated.

Dr Shi discovered RaTG13 in the mine after six workers in Tongguan died from an unknown illness in 2012. She took the viral samples back to Wuhan for further analysis.

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