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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Wuhan laboratory at the heart of “extremely unlikely” leak theory

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Wuhan, China:

A team commissioned by the World Health Organization to investigate the source of the coronavirus in Wuhan in January concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that the pathogen had come from a high-security laboratory in the Chinese city of zero ground.

And a WHO report – seen by UKTN on Monday before its official publication – revealed that Covid-19 was most likely first transmitted to humans by a bat via an animal intermediary, investigators practically ruling out the theory of laboratory leaks.

However, this may not completely destroy a notion that was brought into the mainstream by former US President Donald Trump and others, and which gained oxygen as Chinese secrecy and the inability to identify a natural source. raised suspicions.

Here are some key facts about the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory:

High security

The institute houses a laboratory with a biosafety rating of “P4” – the highest possible – which is determined by the level of danger and the resulting safety measures posed by the pathogens studied. Pathogens at the P4 level include those that cause diseases such as Ebola.

The P4 laboratory is the first in Asia and was built at a cost of 300 million yuan ($ 42 million), opening in 2018. It is home to the largest virus bank in Asia, with more than 1,500 strains.

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A P3 laboratory – the biosecurity level that includes coronaviruses – has been operational on the site since 2012.

Critical research

The institute studies some of the world’s most dangerous diseases and has previously conducted extensive investigations into the links between bats and epidemics in China.

Its scientists helped shed light on the Covid-19 pathogen in the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan.

In February 2020, researchers published work there concluding that the genetic makeup of the new virus was about 80% similar to the SARS coronavirus and 96% identical to a coronavirus found in bats.

Many scientists believe the virus that causes Covid-19 originated in bats and may have jumped to humans via another as yet undetermined mammal, and gained traction among humans in late 2019 in a wet market from Wuhan where wildlife was sold for food.

Liang Wannian, head of the Chinese contingent for the WHO mission, said at the end of the mission that animal transmission remained the likely route, but “reservoir hosts have yet to be identified.”

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The “ lab leak ”

Earlier U.S. diplomatic cables reported by the Washington Post had revealed concerns to Washington about security standards at the Wuhan facility.

Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading bat coronavirus experts and deputy director of the P4 lab, raised eyebrows again in a June 2020 interview with Scientific American magazine in which she said she was initially worried about whether the virus had leaked from her lab.

Subsequent checks revealed that her genetic sequence differed from viruses held at the lab, and Shi said she would “bet her life” that there was no leak, according to Chinese state media.

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But the theory has been kept alive by people like Trump and his former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo insisted last year that there was “significant evidence” that the virus came from the lab, but did not offer such evidence.

Leading global publications, such as Le Monde and The Wall Street Journal, as well as scientists from Harvard and Stanford, also kept the theory alive by publishing articles or reports claiming it was a possibility.

WHO conclusions

The WHO team’s mission to Wuhan included a stop at the Institute of Virology, where they met Chinese scientists, including Shi.

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Team leader Peter Ben Embarek said at the end of the mission that the laboratory leak theory was “extremely unlikely” and “not in the assumptions we will suggest for future studies.”

The mission found nothing to overturn the general consensus within the scientific community that the pathogen appeared to be of natural origin.

Doubts persist

But questions about the lab persist, with critics noting that the hands of investigators on the WHO team may have been tied by strict parameters set by its Chinese hosts.

The team members spent only four hours at the institute of virology, just an hour at the wet market, and several days inside their hotel without venturing into the city.

In a subsequent interview with UKTN, Embarek expressed his “frustration” with the lack of access to raw data while in China.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan expressed “deep concerns” about the way the mission was carried out and urged China to “make its data available in the early days of the epidemic.”

(This story was not edited by UK Time News on Social Platforms.)

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