Western intelligence agencies are "looking closely at the work of a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Peng Zhou," as part of a joint international investigation into the origins of COVID-19, according to the Daily Telegraph.
In a stunning expose, the Australian newspaper reports that "the Five Eyes intelligence agencies of Australia, Canada, NZ, UK and US, are understood to be looking closely at the work of a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Peng Zhou, as they examine whether COVID-19 originated from a wet market or whether the naturally-occurring virus may have been released from the level four laboratory in Wuhan that was studying deadly coronavirus pathogens from bats."
Of course, the name of Peng has been long familiar to our readers, and would have been familiar to far more people had Twitter not decided to arbitrarily suspend the Zero Hedge account over a report exposing Mr. Zhou.
As we reported in January - posting publicly available professional contact information and suggesting people ask him about the outbreak near his lab - Peng, head of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunization Group, sought to hire two post-doc fellows last November, who would be tasked with using bats "to research the molecular mechanism that allows Ebola and SARS-associated coronaviruses to lie dormant for a long time without causing diseases."
One press release from his lab was titled: "How bats carry viruses without getting sick." Via the Telegraph:
It can be revealed that Zhou — the head of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunity Project at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — spent three years at the bio-containment facility, Australian Animal Health Laboratory between 2011 and 2014, where he was sent by China to complete his doctorate.
During this time, Zhou arranged for wild-caught bats to be transported alive by air from Queensland to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Victoria where they were euthanised for dissection and studied for deadly viruses.
His work was funded jointly by the CSIRO and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
It examined bat immunology and the role of interferons and how “bats are rich reservoirs for emerging viruses, including many that are highly pathogenic to humans and other mammals” and “many of which cause significant morbidity and mortality in humans and other mammals.”
Western intelligence is also looking into the work of the original "Bat Woman" Shi Zhengli, a colleague of Zhou who is the director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
As we reported in February, Shi notably co-authored a controversial paper in 2015 which described the creation of a new virus by combining a coronavirus found in Chinese horseshoe bats with another that causes human-like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in mice. This research sparked a huge debate at the time over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks.
As Nature.com reported in 2015, the findings reinforce suspicions that bat coronaviruses capable of directly infecting humans (rather than first needing to evolve in an intermediate animal host) may be more common than previously thought, the researchers say.
Zhengli also spent time in Australia as a visiting scientist for three months from February 22 to May 21, 2006 where she worked at the CSIRO’s top-level Australian Animal Health Laboratory.
She used faecal samples of horseshoe bats to identify that they were the natural host for SARS-like coronaviruses. -Daily Telegraph
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that researchers at the WIV had collected bats in a cave over 1,000 miles away in Yunnan which carried COVID-19.
Also disturbing is that the lab had been operating in part on a $3.7 million grant from the US government.
The Mail on Sunday has learned that scientists there experimented on bats as part of a project funded by the US National Institutes of Health, which continues to licence the Wuhan laboratory to receive American money for experiments. -Daily Mail
In mid-April, the Washington Post reported that the US State Department received two cables from US Embassy officials in 2018 warning of inadequate safety at Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting 'risky studies' on bat coronaviruses, according to the report - which notes that the cables have "fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus."
According to the Telegraph, the revelation comes as Australian politicians are ramping up pressure on China to cooperate with the international investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus. Accroding to Andrew Hastie, Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, "The Chinese Communist Party must take responsibility for the virus that began inside their borders and work with the rest of the world to prevent it from happening again. We are simply asking for transparency and co-operation."
Australia's official position is that the virus likely originated in the Wuhan wet market, however they are now considering whether the virus escaped fom the Wuhan Institute of Virology due to human error - a theory which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo endorsed last week when he told Fox News: "Look, we know it began at one [lab], but we need to figure this out."