Nestled in the hilly suburbs of Wuhan, a Chinese high-security biosafety laboratory has become the focus of recent attention.
Chinese scientists say the new strain of corona virus is likely to be transmitted from animals to humans in a wildlife market in Wuhan, but more attention has recently been paid to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). ) when the information regarding the origin of the virus appears. Asked about the issue at a White House press conference on April 15, US President Donald Trump said: “We are examining the situation very closely.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that US officials are conducting a “full investigation” on how the virus was leaked outside.
What does Wuhan Institute of Virology do?
The institute is the host of the China Virus Collection Center, Asia’s largest virus bank, which is conserving more than 1,500 strains of the virus, according to the center’s website.
The complex has Asia’s first maximum security laboratory equipped to handle Type 4 (P4) pathogens – dangerous viruses that can spread from person to person, like Ebola.
The 300 million-yuan (about 42 million USD) laboratory was completed in 2015 and opened in 2018, with Alain Merieux, founder of a French biotechnology company, as a construction consultant. erect.
The institute also has a P3 laboratory that has been in operation since 2012.
The 3,000-square-meter P4 Laboratory, housed in a square building with pillars next to a lake, sits at the foot of a hill in the remote forest outskirts of Wuhan.
AFP recently visited the facility but found no signs of working.
The poster outside the complex reads: “Strong precaution and control; Don’t panic; Listen to the official announcement; Believe in science; Don’t spread rumors”.
Is this where the corona virus originated?
Pompeo said on April 17 that the Chinese authorities themselves, when starting to investigate the virus, “considered whether WIV was really where the virus originated from.”
“We know that they did not allow scientists around the world to enter that laboratory to evaluate what was happening there, right when we were talking about this issue here,” he said. said in a radio interview.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology declined to comment on April 17, but issued a statement in February to dismiss the rumors. The institute said it had received new virus samples that had never been seen before on December 30, 2019, determined the virus genome sequence on January 2 and sent germ information to The World Health Organization. gender (WHO) on 11/1.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on April 17 denied that the laboratory was the “author” of the pandemic.
“A wise person will immediately understand the purpose of these allegations is to cause confusion, to distract the public and to avoid their responsibilities,” said Zhao, who devised conspiracy theories about the military itself. The US team may have brought the virus to China, said.
What do scientists know about viruses?
Scientists believe that the new strain of corona virus originated from bats before being transmitted to humans through an intermediary species, possibly a pangolin – an endangered species that often hunts horns for illegal trade. method of making traditional medicine in China.
However, research by a group of Chinese scientists published in The Lancet in January revealed that the first Covid-19 patient had nothing to do with the rare animal trade in Wuhan, and Thirteen of the first 41 confirmed cases.
The Institute’s researcher, Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading experts on corona virus and also the deputy director of the P4 Laboratory, was a member of the first research group to announce SARS-CoV-2. from the bat.
In an interview with Science American, Shi said that the sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 genome did not match any of the corona virus her lab had previously collected and studied.
Filippa Lentzos, a biosafety researcher at King’s College London, said that while there is currently no evidence for a “laboratory accident” conspiracy theory, we do not have “solid evidence”. “Which shows that the virus is from the wet market – the traditional market in China.
“For me, the source of the pandemic is still an unanswered question,” Lentzos told AFP.
There are some “indications of the possibility of a lab accident from basic scientific research,” she said.
“But all this needs to be thoroughly investigated before anyone can claim anything about the origin of a pandemic.”
David Heymann, professor of infectious epidemiology at London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, said there was no evidence of the origin of the virus but it was “closely related to the bat”.
“There are many theories as to how humans were infected and, until now, I don’t think any of them can be proven.”