Wuhan Institute of Virology nominated for China's top science award

‘Covid lab leak’ Wuhan Institute of Virology is nominated for China’s top science award – with special praise for ‘bat woman’ scientist

  • The Chinese Academy of Sciences nominated the lab for its work on Covid-19
  • Shi Zhengli, known as ‘bat woman’, received a special mention from committee
  • The lab is at the centre of the theory that Covid was leaked rather than natural 
  • There remains a lack of evidence about its origins amid claims of China cover-up 

The Wuhan Institute of Virology at the centre of the Covid-19 lab leak theory has been nominated for China’s top science award for its work during the pandemic.

The laboratory was put forward for the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ 2021 Outstanding Science and Technology Achievement Prize.

The country’s ‘bat woman’ scientist, Shi Zhengli, who leads research into the animal at the lab, also received a special mention from the committee.

Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, known as Bat Woman, is pictured in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The scientist has been nominated for a prize for her work on Covid-19

The laboratory was put forward for the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ 2021 Outstanding Science and Technology Achievement Prize

A description posted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences said, according to The Times: ‘The research group collectively has completed the most comprehensive and systematic identification research on the aetiology of Covid-19, and the results of the project have laid an important foundation and technology platform for the follow-up research on the origin, epidemiology and pathogenic mechanism of the Covid-19 virus, as well as the research and development of drugs and vaccines.

‘It provided key scientific and technological support for epidemic prevention and control.’ 

The nomination comes despite growing speculation that the virus did not occur naturally but escaped from the lab located just a few miles away from the Wuhan wet market where the outbreak was first identified.  

Critics have lashed back against scientists who last year refused to entertain the idea which was dismissed as a conspiracy theory.

The nomination comes despite growing speculation that the virus did not occur naturally but escaped from the lab (pictured)

US infectious diseases boss Dr Anthony Fauci has faced calls to resign over the scandal after he last year dismissed the theory as nonsense but appeared to be considering it behind closed doors.

And scientists who put their names to a letter denouncing the ‘lab leak’ theory last year have since changed their minds and said a full inquiry is required.

President Joe Biden has ordered a full investigation into the origin of the pandemic virus and demanded scientists work out whether there is truth to the theory.

China has rejected the allegations, despite the US pushing them to carry out further probes, citing findings by the World Health Organisation that said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ the virus emerged from the lab.

Dr Shi gave a rare interview last week in which she backed her government, saying the accusations are ‘filth’ and claimed no one at the lab ever got sick.

The accepted wisdom has been that the virus emerged in a bat and then spread to people in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan (pictured) in late 2019, but there is a growing counter-argument that the virus existed before this and could have been leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology nearby

‘How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?’ She told The New York Times.

‘I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist,’ Dr Shi added.

She said the theories were completely unsubstantiated and said it was untrue that three of her colleagues had fallen ill with Covid before the outbreak emerged.

‘Bat woman’ has been accused of conducting controversial ‘gain of function’ experiments which genetically modify viruses in order to better understand the risks they pose.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology employs nearly 300 people and is the home to only two Chinese labs given the top bio-safety clearance, Level 4. It is the only lab in China permitted to handle deadly viruses such as ebola, bird flu and HIV. 

While China has tried to insist the virus originated elsewhere, academics, politicians and the media have begun to contemplate the possibility it escaped from the WIV – raising suspicions that Chinese officials simply hid evidence of the early spread

‘The Wuhan Institute of Virology has not come across such cases,’ she wrote. ‘If possible, can you provide the names of the three to help us check?’ 

But China has blocked an independent probe of the lab and hasn’t released any of the raw data from the facility, making it impossible to validate anything Dr Shi says.

And in recent days, one of the UK’s top virologists said she couldn’t rule out the possibility that the coronavirus had been leaked. 

But Professor Wendy Barclay, a member of the SAGE advisory group and infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, said she thought the accepted idea that the bug spread to humans in an animal market was ‘much more likely’. 

Her comments came after Boris Johnson said ‘anybody sensible’ would ‘keep an open mind’ about the origin of the coronavirus outbreak but the UK does not currently believe the so-called ‘lab leak’ theory.

Professor Wendy Barclay, a member of SAGE and infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, told MPs today that she ‘could not exclude the possibility’ of a lab leak but that a natural jump was more likely

Mr Johnson told a press conference at the end of the G7 summit in Cornwall: ‘At the moment, the advice that we have had is it doesn’t look as though this particular disease of zoonotic origin came from a lab.  

‘Clearly anybody sensible would want to keep an open mind about that.’

The head of the World Health Organization insisted just a day earlier that the theory that Covid emerged from a Wuhan lab has not been ruled out – as he said China should help solve the mystery out of ‘respect’ for the dead.

The body’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that Beijing had not cooperated fully as he urged more ‘transparency’ in the continuing investigation. 

The Trump administration attempted to raise the alarm with intelligence dumps about the lab which said researchers fell ill in the fall of 2019 with symptoms consistent with Covid-19. That was at least a month before Beijing officially reported the existence of a new respiratory illness to the world on December 31, 2019.

Among the dossiers were claims that the Bat Woman’s team were working with a bat coronavirus that is 96.2 percent similar genetically to the virus that causes Covid and that the lab had secret links to Chinese military.  

The first investigation in January by Western scientists, which was strictly supervised by Beijing from start to finish, resulted in a report that a Wuhan laboratory incident was ‘highly unlikely’ to have caused the pandemic. Pictured: Scientists at the WIV in 2017

Earlier this month one of the original authors of a controversial letter in The Lancet medical journal at the start of the pandemic said he had changed his stance on whether the lab leak was possible.

Dr Peter Palese, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, signed the letter in the Lancet in February last year claiming the virus could only have been natural in origin and to suggest otherwise would create ‘fear, rumors, and prejudice’.

The ‘bullying’ letter, orchestrated by Dr Peter Daszak, the head of a non-profit that funnelled U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was criticized by experts for ostracizing anyone offering different opinions on the virus’ origins, dismissing them as conspiracy theorists.

It is only now, nearly 16 months after that letter was published in the world-renowned medical journal, that the theory Covid was accidentally leaked from a lab in Wuhan is being looked at seriously.

US President Joe Biden ordered intelligence agencies to launch a probe into whether Covid was man-made after all. But China immediately hit back and called the suggestion a ‘conspiracy’.

And now Professor Palese, 77, made a significant U-turn, admitting all theories on how Covid came about now need proper investigating.

He told MailOnline: ‘I believe a thorough investigation about the origin of the Covid-19 virus is needed.

‘A lot of disturbing information has surfaced since the Lancet letter I signed, so I want to see answers covering all questions.’

Asked how he was originally approached to sign the letter and what new information had come to light specifically, Professor Palese declined to comment.

Professor Palese spoke out as America’s leading pandemic expert Dr Fauci continued to face fevered calls to resign after emails revealed that leading virus experts warned Covid could be man-made even as he downplayed the possibility.

The emails also showed he communicated with Dr Daszak, the head of the non-profit that funnelled U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Wuhan lab.

Biden threw his support behind the embattled expert on Friday, saying: ‘Yes I’m very confident in Dr Fauci.’

Another scientist who signed the letter, Dr Jeremy Farrar – director of the Wellcome Trust in London – declined to comment on the Fauci allegations but said it remains ‘most likely’ the virus came from an animal but ‘there are other possibilities which cannot be completely ruled out and retaining an open mind is critical’.

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