Dr. Shi Zhengli - the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) 'Bat Woman' who fell under international scrutiny in 2015 over her 'gain-of-function' experiments to make bat coronaviruses transmissible to humans - has hit back at accusations that COVID-19 escaped from her lab, and says President Trump should apologize for promoting the theory.
After taking two months to respond to a series of questions by Science magazine, Zhengli emailed the publication answers which Rutgers molecular biologist, Richard Ebright, says are "formulaic, almost robotic, reiterations of statements previously made by Chinese authorities and state media."
Zhengli, whose answers were coordinated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which WIV belongs to, claims that she and her colleagues discovered SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019 in samples from patients who had contracted pneumonia of unknown origin. "Before that, we had never been in contact with or studied this virus, nor did we know of its existence," she wrote.
"U.S. President Trump’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from our institute totally contradicts the facts," she added. "It jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal life. He owes us an apology."
In April, the Daily Telegraph reported that Western intelligence agencies are investigating Zhengli, as well as her colleague Peng Zhou - over whether COVID-19 originated from a wet market, or whether the virus may have been an accidental release from their level-4 lab.
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."
Meanwhile, Chinese virologist Dr. Li-Meng yan - who specialized in virology and immunology at the Hong Kong School of Public Health and fled Hong Kong in late April, insists COVID-19 was created in a lab, and says she's going to prepare a "very solid scientific report to show people how easily this can be done from the lab."
And lastly, a Chinese professor has accused the CCP of destroying evidence and delayed action in the early days of the outbreak - including evidence that COVID-19 is transmissible between humans, according to VICE.
On January 12, Professor Kwok Yung Yuen diagnosed a family with the coronavirus in Shenzhen, 700 miles from Wuhan. Only some of the family members had been to the city where the COVID-19 outbreak originated, so Yuen knew immediately that he was seeing evidence of human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus.
He immediately alerted the authorities in Beijing.
But it took eight days for Beijing to warn the world that the coronavirus, which has now killed almost 650,000 people and infected over 16 million, could be spread through human-to-human transmission.
Yuen, who spoke to the BBC show Panorama for an episode due to be broadcast later on Monday, was helping to investigate the outbreak in Wuhan in early January after other whistleblower doctors had attempted to raise the alarm in late December. -VICE
According to Yuen, government officials covered up the initial scale of the outbreak by destroying physical evidence (via VICE).
"When we went to the Huanan supermarket, of course, there was nothing to see because the market was clean already," he said. "So, you may say that the crime scene is already disturbed because the supermarket was cleared, we cannot identify any host which is giving the virus to humans."
"I do suspect that they have been doing some cover-up locally at Wuhan," Yuen added. "The local officials who are supposed to immediately relay the information has not allowed this to be done as readily as it should."