The Coronavirus pandemic has changed many lives forever, including that of Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli. Even as some believe that her bat Coronavirus research in the controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology caused the global health crisis, after the virus escaped from the lab and infected millions of people, the "Bat Woman" has decided to break the silence and reveal details about the Wuhan lab leak theory.
Even though there is no solid proof to support the lab leak theory, U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration had promoted it on several occasions, while some have even suggested that the SARS-CoV-2 was created in the Wuhan lab. However, China forcefully rejected all these claims and now, Shi has opened up about the virus' origin and her research in Wuhan.
The virologists told Science via email that she and her colleagues discovered the SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019 after they analyzed samples collected from patients who got affected by the unknown pneumonia-like disease. Shi said: "Before that, we had never been in contact with or studied this virus, nor did we know of its existence."
The Chinese virologist said that Trump's claim that this new strain of Coronavirus was leaked from the Wuhan lab "totally contradicts the facts," and added that "It jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal life. He owes us an apology."
The Wuhan and Bat Coronavirus Research
Shi said that for the past 15 years, the Wuhan lab has isolated and grown only three bat Coronaviruses related to one that infected humans — the pathogen that caused SARS outbreak in 2003. The lab has detected over 2000 bat Coronaviruses, including one which is almost similar to the SARS-CoV-2 — which means both of them shared a common ancestor decades ago and the team came to know about this from the genetic sequences that were extracted from fecal samples and oral, as well as, anal swabs of the animals.
Shi explained that her fellow researchers and students at the lab were tested for novel Coronavirus and all of the results came negative while challenging the claim that an infected person from the Wuhan lab triggered the pandemic.
While talking about U.S. National Institute of Health's decision to cut the grant to the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance that collaborated with the Wuhan lab to study bat viruses in the past few years, Shi said: "We don't understand [it] and feel it is absolutely absurd."
Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance has worked with the Chinese scientist for more than 15 years, said: "Zhengli is that she is frank and honest and that just makes it easier to solve problems. She will go out in the field and get involved in the work, but her real skills are in the lab, and she's one of the best I've worked with in China, probably globally."
The comments from Shi came at a time when the entire world is struggling to deal with the current health crisis which affected over 15 million people. The pandemic not only changed the complete structure of the normal lifestyle, but it also triggered international tensions, mostly between China and the U.S. On several occasions, Trump addressed novel Coronavirus as the "China Virus" and said Beijing may have deliberately let the outbreak turn into a pandemic to damage other economies.
Even though a huge number of people do believe in such unproven claims, there is no solid evidence to prove that. But still, the world is now noticing racist attacks and hate crimes, targeting people of Chinese-origin.
The "Bat Woman" of China said she is willing to bet her life that the Coronavirus outbreak "has nothing to do with the [Wuhan] lab." In February, over 20 scientists from eight countries outside of China published a statement of solidarity with Chinese scientists and health professionals in The Lancet. Later, in March a paper was published in Nature that analyzed SARS-CoV-2's genetic makeup, while biologists put an argument against the virus creation in the lab theory.