The Chinese government is blocking access to scientists from around the world to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, that is under investigation by US officials as a possible source of the coronavirus outbreak, which has so far infected over 2.4 million people and claimed 165,000 lives around the world, according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, Pompeo said that Chinese authorities have barred the world's scientists from entering the laboratory to determine whether the deadly pathogen originated from there.
"We know that they've not permitted the world's scientists to go into that laboratory to evaluate what took place there, what's happening there, what's happening there even as we speak," he said. "We still have not had Western access to that facility so that we can properly evaluate what really has taken off all across the world and how that began."
Since January, theories about a possible leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have been circulating, with many, including Pompeo, suggesting that the virus was leaked as a result of poor safety protocols.
Investigation over whether Wuhan virology lab leaked COVID-19
Last week, US President Donald Trump revealed that intelligence officials were investigating whether COVID-19 started its rampant spread across the globe following a lab accident at a Chinese high-security biological laboratory in Wuhan.
"We're looking at it," Trump said during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. "A lot of people are looking at it. It seems to make sense. There is a lot of investigation going on and we're going to find out."
"We don't know the answer to the question about the precise origination point," Pompeo told Hewitt. "But we do know this: We know that the first sightings of this occurred within miles of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We know that this, the history of the facility, first VSL-4 lab where there's high-end virus research being conducted took place at that site."
China tightens grip on research of coronavirus origin
As previously reported, China has also imposed restrictions on the publication of academic research on the origins of the novel coronavirus, according to a central government directive and online notices published by two Chinese universities, which have since been removed from the web.
Under the new policy, all academic research papers on COVID-19 will undergo additional vetting by central government officials before they're approved for publication, the now-deleted posts revealed.
Wuhan virology lab chief denies claims
The Wuhan Institute of Virology's director, Yuan Zhiming, in a first media interview, rejected the theory that his institute is where the global COVID-19 pandemic originated, according to recent reports.
"We know what kind of research is going at the institute and how the institute manages viruses and samples. There is no way that virus came from us," he told the state-run CGTN TV channel. "We have a strict regulatory regimen. We have code of conduct for research so we are confident of that."
Yuan added that since the institute of Virology and the P4 lab, which handles dangerous viruses, is in Wuhan, "people can't help but make associations."
Addressing the US allegations, he said it's unfortunate how some people are "deliberately misleading" people without having any "evidence of knowledge."
"This is entirely based on speculation. Part of the purpose is to confuse people and interfere with our anti-epidemic and scientific activities. They may have achieved their goal in some way but as a scientist and science and technology manager, I know it is impossible," he said.