Staff at the Chinese laboratory central to questions about the origins of the coronavirus crisis have admitted ‘devastating pandemics can occur’ at facilities housing dangerous viruses.
In a 2,000-word article published in a scientific journal, two professors at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) laid out a series of recommendations to avoid spillovers — despite fears that Covid leaked from their own facility.
The journal entry, described as ‘beyond satire’, advocates for ‘sharing and transparency’ between global biolabs and promotes the ‘exchange of samples and information’.
But British scientists told MailOnline the calls for openness were ironic because Beijing has stifled independent investigations into the Chinese lab’s ties to Covid.
Writing in the paper, WIV virologists Professors Han Xia and Zhiming Yuan warned that biological threats, whether natural ‘or accidentally or deliberately released’, can ‘endanger lives and disrupt economies worldwide’.
‘At one level this paper is a well-written, workmanlike review of biosafety level four labs, and the need for them,’ said Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at East Anglia University. ‘At another level it is beyond satire.’
The Wuhan lab — located just 10 miles away from the first confirmed Covid case, at the Huanan seafood market — worked extensively on bat coronaviruses and was known to be experimenting on Covid’s closest known relatives.
‘The authors don’t mention this,’ Professor Livermore added. ‘Indeed they say nothing of the assertion that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan lab. One wonders if the referees or editor raised the topic, or if they thought it “bad manners” to do so.’
The ‘lab leak’ theory was initially dismissed as conspiracy at the start of the pandemic in favour of a natural origin, but the hypothesis gained momentum following a series of revelations and cover-ups.
Crucial information about the earliest infected patients was wiped from the Wuhan lab’s database in late 2019 and one of its staff vanished after coming down with a mysterious flu-like illness.
Professor Han and Professor Zhiming declared they had no ‘known competing interests that could have appeared to influence’ their writing. MailOnline has contacted the publisher Elsevier and the Chinese scientists for comment.
But Professor Livermore said: ‘How on earth can Elsevier, who published the paper, allow such nonsense when there are self-evident conflicts?’
The Wuhan lab — located just 10 miles away from the first confirmed Covid case — specialises in engineering dangerous bat coronaviruses and was experimenting on Covid’s closest known relatives
Professor Han Xia (left) and Professor Zhiming Yuan from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, admitted ‘devastating pandemics can occur’ at facilities housing dangerous viruses
Virologist Shi Zheng-li works with her colleague in the P4 lab of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Hubei province – which is at the heart of the lab-leak theory. Nicknamed the ‘Bat Lady’, Zheng-li hunted down dozens of deadly Covid-like viruses in bat caves and studied them at the WIV
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where some believe the virus may have been accidentally leaked from
The lab is one of 59 level four maximum containment labs housing the most deadly viruses in the world, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where some believe the Covid pandemic may have originated
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline that while the article was probably well intentioned, it means nothing if China continues its reign of censorship.
‘All the things that are advocated for are entirely proper and would be good things to do, they would undoubtedly reduce the chances of outbreaks of infections occurring again,’ he said.
‘However genuine Chinese scientists are in wanting to work towards such aims, without buy-in from their government, they are pointless.
‘Early version of Covid-19’ discovered in Chinese lab
Scientists have found traces of coronavirus that could bolster the theory that the pandemic began with a leak from a laboratory.
The discovery, from analysis of soil samples, suggests coronavirus may not have jumped from wildlife into humans naturally.
More evidence is needed, however, particularly relating to exactly when the virus entered the samples.
Scientists in Hungary found traces of a unique variant of coronavirus while examining DNA from soil from Antarctica that had been sent to the firm Sangon Biotech in Shanghai.
The researchers also found genetic material from Chinese hamsters and green monkeys, which may suggest the virus was being examined in a lab, using either the animals themselves or their cells.
Some of those who support the lab leak theory suggest Chinese scientists engineered the virus in a lab to make it more dangerous as part of an experiment, before the virus escaped.
Viscount Ridley, author of Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19, suggested the latest evidence may support the lab leak theory due to the presence of ‘three key [Covid] mutations’ that are characteristic of the earliest sequences of the virus.
However, the findings must be interpreted with caution, as the soil DNA may have been contaminated with the virus by the first Covid patients, who were reported by China in December 2019.
The soil samples were sent in the same month to Sangon Biotech but it is not clear when they were analysed.
The findings, from Eotvos Lorand University and the University of Veterinary Medicine, both in Budapest, have been published online but not yet formally reviewed by other scientists.
Professor Jesse Bloom, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle in the US, re-ran the data from Hungary to confirm that the Antarctic samples did contain the virus. But he said the ‘ultimate implications remain unclear’.
‘International teams of experts have been shown what Chinese authorities want them to see, presumably with a pre-determined set of conclusions in mind.
‘Unless investigators are allowed to roam freely and examine what they decide they want to see, sharing and transparency will be nothing more than empty words.’
Writing in the paper, published in the Journal of Biosafety and Biosecurity, Professor Han and Professor Zhiming admit biological threats, whether natural ‘or accidentally or deliberately released’, can ‘endanger lives and disrupt economies worldwide’.
‘High-containment protective measures should be implemented when handling bio-agents that can cause serious, highly contagious diseases, otherwise devastating pandemics can occur,’ the scientists add.
The academic paper, published online on December 29 but not due in print until June, claims studying pathogens with the potential to cause pandemics is crucial so tests and drugs can be developed in advance.
Although in no way an admission that Covid leaked from the WIV, the article appears to advocate the use of controversial virus manipulation research that some believe may have played a role in Covid’s origin.
The WIV was carrying out ‘gain of function’ research on bat coronaviruses as recently as 2017, which involves tinkering with viruses to make them more infectious or deadly to preempt outbreaks.
Writing in the paper, the Chinese authors said: ‘To safely prepare for and respond to the threat of endemic disease and emerging pathogens, reduce the risk of infection, and lessen the impact of either naturally occurring outbreaks or bioterrorism, the most important thing is to better understand the pathogens with pandemic potential and develop an appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic strategy.
‘To carry out these activities safely, securely, and responsibly, facilities are necessary to protect researchers from infection while they manipulate the pathogens, and to prevent the pathogens from leaking into the environment.’
The paper makes no mention of the origins of Covid but does highlight that the US and Britain have 28 times as many level four laboratories between them as China.
Professor Han and Profesor Zhiming did, however, acknowledge the severity of the current pandemic.
They wrote: ‘At the beginning of 2020, the Covid pandemic engulfed the world, and remains ongoing. The United Nations Secretary-General described the Covid pandemic as the “worst crisis since World War II”.
‘[The virus] has had an historical impact and provided the biggest test to date of global biosafety systems. At the same time, the world is also facing threats from terrorist groups and their potential use of bioweapons.’
They claimed such labs ‘enabled Chinese scientists to complete the isolation, identification, and whole-genome sequencing of the causative agent underlying Covid within one week in the early stages of the pandemic’.
This enabled scientists to quickly make vaccines and treatments which target specific parts of the virus, like the spike protein.
‘These achievements provided a solid basis for the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics, and gave the world time to develop measures designed to control the spread of the virus,’ the pair wrote.
Sir Jeremy Farrar (right), director of the Welcome Trust, told US health chief Dr Anthony Fauci (left) in an email in February 2020 that a ‘likely explanation’ for the virus’ origins is that it evolved in human tissue in a lab
Other respected experts including Professor Mike Farzan, who first discovered how the original SARS virus binds to human cells, also claimed the virus could not have evolved naturally, according to Sir Jeremy’s email
Dr Francis Collins, the US National Institutes of Health director at the time, hit back at the claims immediately, claiming entertaining the theory would allow ‘the voices of conspiracy [to] quickly dominate’
Professor Zhiming also happens to be one of two editors-in-chief of the journal, sharing the title alongside Dr Jianguo Xu — director of the Beijing-based State Key Laboratory for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, a part of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
China insisted early and often that the virus did not leak from the Wuhan lab, claiming that crossover to humans must have occurred at a ‘wet market’ that sold live animals.
Perhaps driven by animosity for then-US President Donald Trump, who embraced the lab leak theory early on, mainstream media and academics in the West heaped scorn on the possibility, calling it an unhinged conspiracy theory.
But leaked emails showed that top scientists advising the UK and US Governments expressed concerns about the official narrative privately.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, an eminent British expert who publicly denounced the theory as a ‘conspiracy’, admitted in a private email in February 2020 that a ‘likely explanation’ was that the virus was man-made.
The then-UK Government adviser said at the time he was ’70:30 or 60:40′ in favour of an accidental release versus natural origin.
In the email, sent to American health chiefs Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Francis Collins, Sir Jeremy claimed it was possible Covid had been evolved from a SARS-like virus in the lab.
He went on to say that this seemingly benign process may have ‘accidentally created a virus primed for rapid transmission between humans’.
But the British scientist was shut down by his counterparts in the US who warned further debate about the origins of the virus could damage ‘international harmony’.
China’s official pandemic timeline of the coronavirus pandemic and the evidence that undermines it
Dec 8, 2019 – Earliest date that China has acknowledged an infection
Dec 31 – China first reported ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ to the World Health Organisation
Jan 1, 2020 – Wuhan seafood market closed for disinfection
Jan 7 – President Xi Jinping discusses coronavirus outbreak with his politburo
Jan 9 – China makes public the genome of the coronavirus
Jan 11 – China reported its first death
Jan 13 – First case outside China is confirmed
Jan 20 – China’s National Health Commission confirms human-to-human transmission
Jan 23 – Wuhan locked down
Jan 31 – WHO declared ‘outbreak of international concern’ as China admitted having thousands of cases
Feb 23 – Italy reports cluster of cases in first major outbreak in the West
May 29 – China claims virus did not originate in wet markets but in Chinese bats before it jumped to humans via an ‘intermediary animal’
July 31 – Chinese researcher admits some coronavirus experiments conducted in lower biosafety labs
Dec 16 – WHO announces it will travel to Wuhan to probe origins of virus in January
Jan 5, 2021 – China denies entry to WHO’s investigatory team
Feb 9 – WHO dismisses theory virus leaked from lab – backs China’s claim it was imported from frozen meat
Mar 28 – Former US national security officials says intel shows ‘there was a direct order from Beijing to destroy all viral samples’ at Wuhan lab
2012: Six miners struck down with with a mysterious flu-like illness in Mojiang cave in Yunnan.
They were found to have been infected with the closest known relative to Covid, sharing 97% of its genes.
Samples RATG13 are sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to be studied.
Sep 2019– Blood samples are taken in a lung cancer screening trial in Italy which later test positive for coronavirus
Oct – Whistleblower Wei Jingsheng claims China deliberately spread Covid at The World Military Games in Wuhan in October, two months before the rest of the world knew about the virus
Oct – Xi Jinping’s authoritarian regime tried desperately to shut down whistle-blowers like Mr Jingsheng. Any references made in social media about a new SARS virus or ‘outbreak’ were censored
Oct-Dec – Rise in ‘flu and pneumonia’ cases in northern Italy which could be linked to coronavirus
Nov – Whistleblower Mr Jingsheng claims he took his concerns about the military games to senior figures within the Trump administration but was ignored
Nov – Intelligence report passed to agencies in Washington claims three members of staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital treatment in November 2019 after experiencing symptoms consistent with Covid
Nov – Sewage samples taken in Florianópolis, Brazil, suggest virus was present
Nov 10 – Milanese woman has a skin biopsy, producing a sample which later shows signs of the virus
Nov 17 – Leaked documents suggest case detected in China on this date
Dec – Doctors in China, including Li Wenliang, report existance of new type of respiratory infection. But Chinese police arrested him and eight of his colleagues for questioning – instead of publicising reports and warning public
Dec 1 – Chinese researchers report an infection on this date in a peer-reviewed study, but it has not been acknowledged by Beijing
Dec 18 – Sewage samples taken in Milan and Turin suggest virus was circulating in the cities
Dec 26 – Samples analysed suggested a new type of SARS was circulating as early as December 26, but Wuhan was not locked down until January 22
Jan 2020 – Sewage samples from Barcelona suggest virus was in the city
Jan 3 – Covid-19 infections begin sweeping across other nations including the U.S. as the WHO labelled the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
May – Scientists at a government lab in California concluded that Covid-19 may have escaped from a facility in Wuhan
July – WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said China failed share vital raw data during their investigation in Wuhan. China rebuffed those claims
June 2021: Leading US virus expert Dr Anthony Fauci was warned Covid may have been engineered in a lab, emails publicly released reveal.
August: The world’s first Covid-19 patient may have been infected by a bat while working for a Wuhan lab in China, WHO chief Dr Peter Embarek said
August: A damning report by Republicans in the US claims coronavirus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, shortly after the facility tried to improve air safety and waste treatment systems
The report also cited ‘ample evidence’ that lab scientists were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden.
October: US intelligence review into origins of pandemic does not reach a judgement on whether the virus emerged via animal-to-human transmission or a lab leak.
Chinese officials branded the report ‘political and false’.
January 2022: Leaked emails from top UK scientist Sir Jeremy Farrar showed he admitted in February 2020 that it was a ‘likely explanation’ that the virus could be man-made. But he went on to brand the theory a ‘conspiracy’.
February: Sir Farrar is called to be interviewed under oath at the US Congress. Officials want him to explain why he shifted away from the lab leak theory.