UK ministers believe the theory that the coronavirus outbreak may have been caused by an accidental leak by a Wuhan laboratory is "credible," raising questions over claims made by health officials that the deadly virus was traced to a wet market in the Chinese city.
Theory 'no longer being discounted' by UK government
Senior UK government officials claim that while "the balance of scientific advice" suggests that COVID-19 was first transmitted to humans from a live animal market in Wuhan, a leak from a laboratory in the city is "no longer being discounted," as reported by the Daily Mail on Sunday.
A member of Cobra, the emergency cross-departmental committee led by Boris Johnson, said last night that while UK intelligence does not dispute claims that the virus was "zoonotic," which means it originated from animals, it has not ruled out the possibility that the virus could have been leaked from a Wuhan research laboratory.
The member of the top-level committee, which receives detailed and classified briefings from the country's security services, said: "There is a credible alternative view [to the zoonotic theory] based on the nature of the virus. Perhaps it is no coincidence that there is that laboratory in Wuhan. It is not discounted."
Lab researchers accidentally sprayed with blood?
Conspiracy theorists have been pushing the story for quite some time now that the virus was leaked by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located just 16 km away from the notorious animal market. According to the state-run People's Daily newspaper, the institute was "capable of conducting experiments with highly pathogenic microorganisms."
Despite being a million-dollar institution with high security protocols, there are reports claiming that researchers at the institute became infected with COVID-19 after being accidentally sprayed by blood, and then transmitting the virus to the local population.
We already know that the institute was carrying out research on bats and was looking for scientists that can help study the relationship between bats and coronavirus thanks to a series of job listings posted by the institute in November 2019, which have recently come to light.
Another research lab in the city, the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control, which is barely three miles away from the Huanan wet market, the alleged "ground zero" of coronavirus, also regularly conducted experiments on bats to study the transmission of coronaviruses, as recently pointed out by a Chinese documentary.
A study conducted by the South University of Technology also concluded that COVID-19 "probably" originated in the Centre for Disease Control, although shortly after its research was published, the paper was pulled from a social networking site for scientists and researchers.
Labs did not follow standard infection-control protocol
According to American microbiology expert Professor Richard Ebright, although the evidence suggests COVID-19 was not engineered in one of the Wuhan laboratories, it could easily have leaked from the labs while it was being analysed.
Professor Ebright said there is evidence to prove that scientists at the Centre for Disease Control and the Institute of Virology studied the viruses with only "Level 2" security instead of the recommended "Level 4," which does not provide sufficient protection to staff members against infections.
"Virus collection, culture, isolation, or animal infection would pose a substantial risk of infection of a lab worker, and from the lab worker then the public," he told the Daily Mail.
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2004 was due to a leak from a laboratory in 2004, killing one person and infecting nine others. The leak was due to negligence, for which five senior officials at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention were punished.
Lab researcher identified as 'patient zero'
Interestingly enough, early reports of the first patient identified with COVID-19, were traced back to the Institute of Virology. A Lancet study also revealed that the "patient zero," a woman named Huang Yanling, had never visited the Wuhan animal market but worked as a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as previously reported.
However, the claim was dismissed by the institute as "fake information," stating that Huang left the institute in 2015, was in good health and had not been diagnosed by coronavirus.