A Wall Street Journal correspondent has reported that research samples that may have caused the coronavirus outbreak were being stored in a Wuhan lab for seven years, fuelling the conspiracy theory that the deadly virus was leaked by a lab.

Matt Ridley, a science journalist and author in the United Kingdom, published a report in the Wall Street Journal, claiming that COVID-19 was kept in storage at the Wuhan Institute of Virology since 2013.

COVID-19 samples kept in Wuhan lab?

Bat research at the Wuhan CDC
A still from the documentary. YouTube / Knews

According to the report, a research sample derived from a horseshoe bat in a cave in Yunnan, China in 2013 was kept in safe storage at the Wuhan institute until January this year. "RaTG13 is the name, rank and serial number of an individual horseshoe bat of the species Rhinolophus affinis, or rather of a sample of its faeces collected in 2013 in a cave in Yunnan, China, Ridley says in the report.

"The sample was collected by hazmat-clad scientists from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan that year. Stored away and forgotten until January this year, the sample from the horseshoe bat contains the virus that causes COVID-19," he adds.

"Unless other evidence emerges, it thus looks like a horrible coincidence that China's Institute of Virology, a high-security laboratory where human cells were being experimentally infected with bat viruses, happens to be in Wuhan, the origin of today's pandemic" the report notes.

Coronavirus linked to horseshoe bats

coronavirus
Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Wikimedia Commons

Although previous research has suggested that pangolins were carriers of the virus before it spread to humans, a recent study, published last week by Maciej Boni at Penn State University and David Robertson at Glasgow University, together with Chinese and European colleagues that the coronavirus is more closely related to the RaTG13 horseshoe bat sample from the cave.

Was COVID-19 accidentally leaked by a Wuhan lab?

Coronavirus
Caption: WUHAN, Feb. 13, 2020 (Xinhua) -- Staff members work in a laboratory in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 13, 2020. As a designated service provider of nucleic acid detection of the novel coronavirus, KingMed Diagnostics laboratory in Wuhan conducts non-stop detection service and detects over 2,000 samples from various cities in Hubei Province every day. (Xinhua/Xiong Qi/IANS) Xinhua/IANS

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. Alternatively, some biological material containing the virus could have been improperly disposed of, leading to an accidental infection of someone outside the lab.

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.

Moreover, 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.