Days after a spy dossier accused China of intentionally destroying evidence of the coronavirus outbreak, a new report claims that the Wuhan Institute of Virology deleted pictures from its website that showed scientists handling bat samples without any safety precautions.

Images deleted from website

According to The Sun, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which is at the center of the conspiracy theory that claims the coronavirus was accidentally leaked by the lab while handling bat-derived research samples, has pulled the images from its official website.

The pictures apparently revealed a lack of safety protocols being followed by scientists working at the lab. The deleted material includes a page of the lab's website showing pictures of a staff member entering caves to take swabs from bats carrying coronaviruses without any kind of protective gear or equipment.

Earlier this month photos from the same Wuhan lab showed a broken seal on a store containing 1,500 virus strains - including the bat coronavirus linked to the devastating pandemic. The images were published by the state-owned China Daily before they too were swiftly deleted.

References to visit made by US diplomats also edited out

The report added that the institute also removed all references to a visit made by a US diplomat to the controversial lab. In March 2018, Rick Switzer, a science expert from the US embassy in Beijing visited the lab before raising an alarm about the laboratory's work on bats.

As a result of Mr Switzer's visit, cables were sent to the US State Department from the embassy warning about the potential risks of the lab's experiments on bats. "During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they [the diplomats] noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory," read one of the cables.

Lack of safety protocols led to accidental leak?

Last month there were reports claiming that researchers at the institute became infected with COVID-19 after being accidentally sprayed by blood derived from the flying mammals, and then transmitting the virus to the local population.

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

American microbiology expert Professor Richard Ebright, also said he believes the deadly pathogen could easily have leaked from the labs while it was being analysed. 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, he pointed out.

Last week, Donald Trump claimed he had evidence to prove that the virus originated in the Wuhan lab. His sentiments were echoed by US secretary Mike Pompeo, who stated earlier today that there was substantial proof tracing the origin of the outbreak to the institute.