Wuhan is also home to China’s foremost coronavirus research laboratory, housing one of the world’s largest collections of bat samples and bat-virus strains. The Wuhan Institute of Virology’s lead coronavirus researcher, Shi Zhengli, was among the first to identify horseshoe bats as the natural reservoirs for SARS-CoV, the virus that sparked an outbreak in 2002, killing 774 people and sickening more than 8,000 globally. After SARS, bats became a major subject of study for virologists around the world, and Shi became known in China as “Bat Woman” for her fearless exploration of their caves to collect samples. More recently, Shi and her colleagues at the WIV have performed high-profile experiments that made pathogens more infectious. Such research, known as “gain-of-function,” has generated heated controversy among virologists.
By spring of 2021, the debate over COVID-19’s origins had become so noxious that death threats were flying in both directions.
In a CNN interview on March 26, Dr. Redfield, the former CDC director under Trump, made a candid admission: “I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped.” Redfield added that he believed the release was an accident, not an intentional act. In his view, nothing that happened since his first calls with Dr. Gao changed a simple fact: The WIV needed to be ruled out as a source, and it hadn’t been.
Author(s): Katherine Eban
Publication Date: 3 June 2021
Publication Site: Vanity Fair
Now, in a letter in the journal Science, 18 prominent biologists—including the world’s foremost coronavirus researcher—are lending their weight to calls for a new investigation of all possible origins of the virus, and calling on China’s laboratories and agencies to “open their records” to independent analysis.
“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” the scientists write.
The letter, which was organized by the Stanford University microbiologist David Relman and the University of Washington virologist Jesse Bloom, takes aim at a recent joint study of covid origins undertaken by the World Health Organization and China, which concluded that a bat virus likely reached humans via an intermediate animal and that a lab accident was “extremely unlikely.”
Author(s): Rowan Jacobsen
Publication Date: 13 May 2021
Publication Site: MIT Tech Review
New evidence from China is affirming what epidemiologists have long suspected: The coronavirus likely began spreading unnoticed around the Wuhan area in November 2019, before it exploded in multiple different locations throughout the city in December.
Chinese authorities have identified 174 confirmed Covid-19 cases around the city from December 2019, said World Health Organization researchers, enough to suggest there were many more mild, asymptomatic or otherwise undetected cases than previously thought.
Many of the 174 cases had no known connection to the market that was initially considered the source of the outbreak, according to information gathered by WHO investigators during the four-week mission to China to examine the origins of the virus. Chinese authorities declined to give the WHO team raw data on these cases and potential earlier ones, team members said.
Author(s): Betsy McKay in New York, Drew Hinshaw in Warsaw and Jeremy Page in Beijing
Publication Date: 19 February 2021
Publication Site: Wall Street Journal