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Virologist: Lab leakage claims pure fabrication

By ZHANG ZHIHAO | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-05-26 21:00
An undated transmission electron micrograph of a novel coronavirus particle, the virus which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient. [Photo/Agencies]

The Wuhan Institute of Virology, the target of COVID-19 virus conspiracy theories, did not possess the novel coronavirus before the outbreak, nor did it have the intention or the ability to create the virus, a senior virologist told China Daily on the sidelines of the annual national legislative and political advisory sessions.

Hence the conspiracy theories claiming the virus had escaped the institute's high biosecurity lab, which was modeled after ones from Europe, is "pure fabrication", said Yuan Zhiming, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Wuhan Branch and head of the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory.

He also made it clear that no pathogen leaks or personnel infection accidents have ever occurred at the P4 lab.

Since the COVID-19 epidemic began, some foreign politicians and media outlets have made accusations with no evidence that the institute's biosafety level 4 lab, also known as the P4 lab, had manufactured the virus and accidentally released it to the world.

Yuan, also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, said such accusations constitute "unwarranted speculation that violates scientific consensus and most importantly, totally contradicts objective facts".

The institute first received samples of the coronavirus on Dec 30. On Jan 12, the institute was one of the entities authorized by the National Health Commission to publish the full genome sequence of the virus to the world, he said.

On Feb 19, The Lancet medical journal published a joint statement by 27 scientists from eight countries concluding that the novel coronavirus had a natural origin. On March 18, a paper published by the journal Nature Medicine, by virologists from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, also stated the coronavirus is "not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus".

"All analyses of the SARS-CoV-2 genome by global researchers have proved that it is entirely new and is different from already known viruses," Yuan said. "There is also no information within the novel coronavirus genome indicating it was man-made."

"With regard to designing and creating an entirely unknown virus, it is beyond the current capability of any laboratory of our institute. We have never engaged in, nor will we ever engage in trying to design and construct a new virus," he said.

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