Covid-19 origin: China's top virologist Shi Zhengli denies lab leak theory
Shi Zhengli, the top bat coronavirus researcher at Wuhan Institute of Virology, has defended her institute amid calls for a probe into the origin of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), including a hypothesis that it was leaked from a WIV lab. She said there is no evidence and lamented the filth being poured "on an innocent scientist".
“How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?” she told the New York Times in rare comment to the media on the issue. “I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist,” she further wrote in her response sent through a text message.
In a March 2020 article in Scientific American, Shi said that the genetic code of the virus that causes Covid-19 doesn’t match any of her lab’s samples. She also told the World Health Organization (WHO) team, which visited China to find out the cause of the origin of Covid-19, that all staff had tested negative for Covid-19 antibodies.
US President Joe Biden last month ordered intelligence agencies to investigate the origin of the pandemic, including the lab leak theory.
The leak hypothesis had been floated earlier during the global outbreak, including by Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, but was widely dismissed as a conspiracy theory.
But it has gained increasing traction recently, fueled by reports that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in 2019 after visiting a bat cave in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.
But Shi said in a research paper published in November last year that the workers' pneumonia-like symptoms were caused by a fungal infection. Shi and her team also said in research published that they had retested 13 serum samples from four of the patients and found no sign they had been infected with Sars-CoV-2.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology houses a lab with a biosafety rating of "P4" - the highest possible - which is determined by the level of danger and resulting security measures posed by the pathogens studied there. P4-level pathogens include those that cause diseases such as Ebola.
The P4 lab is Asia's first and was built at a cost of $42 million, opening in 2018.
The institute studies some of the world's most dangerous diseases and previously conducted extensive investigations into the links between bats and disease outbreaks in China.
Its scientists helped shed light on the Covid-19 pathogen in the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan.