Wuhan lab intern accidentally leaked novel coronavirus, says US media
As the question of the origins of the novel coronavirus remains unanswered, reports claimed that the virus may have leaked from a laboratory in China's Wuhan city. Reportedly, the virus may have accidentally been leaked by an intern at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). The development comes as China faces growing international scrutiny over its handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
A recent report in The Washington Post stated that, in 2018, United States science diplomats, sent on visits to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, raised an alarm over the safety and management of the facility. Reportedly, the diplomats were concerned that the bat coronaviruses being researched in the lab could possibly lead to a new SARS-like epidemic.
Fox News reported that WIV may have been responsible for the outbreak. Citing unnamed sources, it claimed that the "patient zero" was a WIV intern. While asking US President Donald Trump about the claims, Fox News reporter John Roberts cited multiple sources to assert that the intern infected her boyfriend, then went to the Wuhan wet market—widely believed as the cradle of the virus.
Trump neither confirmed nor denied the report and said that the US will conduct a "thorough examination" of what happened. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that Chinese authorities had earlier themselves "considered whether the WIV was, in fact, the place where this came from." He also said the lab has not permitted visits from the world's scientists to assess the situation.
When probed about the situation by Agence France-Presse, WIV reportedly declined to comment. However, back in February, the institute had dismissed the allegations. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Friday that the allegations are an attempt to "create confusion, divert public attention, and shirk their responsibility." In the past, Zhao has notably suggested that the US is responsible for the outbreak.
Scientists believe that the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 may have transmitted from bats to humans, possibly through pangolins. However, a study by Chinese scientists published in The Lancet in January claimed that the first COVID-19 patient had no connection to the Wuhan wet market and neither did 13 of the 41 initial cases. The market is believed to be the origin of the virus.
A biosecurity researcher at King's College London told AFP that there's no proof for the lab accident theory yet and there is "no real evidence" that the virus came from the wet market. Lentzos said, "For me, the pandemic origin is still an open question."
COVID-19 was first reported in China's Wuhan city late last year. The disease is caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The virus attacks a host's respiratory system triggering symptoms such as fever, cough, and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, it may cause pneumonia, multiple organ failure, or death. COVID-19 has spread to over 170 countries, killing 1.54 lakh and sickening 22.5 lakh.