It has been four months since the novel coronavirus outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China, but the primary source of the disease is still contested. While a local wet market, where all kinds of exotic animals were slaughtered, was earlier believed to be the place of origin of the deadly contagion, the spotlight has swiftly shifted to the Wuhan Virology Lab.
Initially, the suggestion that SARS-CoV-2 originated in the virology lab at Wuhan was denounced sharply by China and was termed a conspiracy theory to further xenophobia. But after the Washington Post published a report that cited US officials' concerns about lax safety measures at the lab as far back as in 2018, public attention has turned back to it.
Fox News reported on Wednesday that there is increasing confidence that novel coronavirus' 'Patient zero' was an intern at the Wuhan lab, who also infected her boyfriend. It was when she went to the local wet market that a large number of people contracted the deadly virus.
The lab and the various stories around it have caught public attention after being made mainstream by the top leadership of the United States
Trump, Pompeo discuss Wuhan Virology lab
In a White House press briefing on Friday, President Donald Trump was asked about increasing skepticism that the virus originated from the lab in Wuhan.
"We're looking at it, a lot of people are looking at it. It seems to make sense", Trump told reporters.
"They talk about a certain kind of bat, but that bat wasn't in that area". "That bat wasn't sold at that wet zone.... That bat is 40 miles away".
"A lot of strange things are happening, but there is a lot of investigation going on and we are going to find out", Trump said.
"All I can say is wherever it came from, came from China in whatever form, 184 countries now are suffering because of it", he further added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday discussed the issue with Fox News' Hugh Hewitt.
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, the first BSL-4 lab where there's high-end virus research being conducted, took place at that site", Pompeo said.
"We know that the Chinese Communist Party, when it began to evaluate what to do inside of Wuhan, considered whether the WIV [Wuhan Virology Lab] was, in fact, the place where this came from".
"And most importantly, we know 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 added.
On Friday, Fox News reported that the United States has opened a full-scale investigation on whether the novel coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan lab.
Obama administration's $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Virology lab
In the White House press briefing on Friday, Trump was asked about the $3.7 million grant by the United States to the Wuhan Virology lab, in 2015.
"When was the grant was made?", the President asked. "Who was the President, then?", the President asked, taking a sly dig at his predecessor.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, situated 12 km from the wet market, is the most advanced lab in China. It boasts of being the largest virus bank in Asia, that preserves 1500 strains of viruses. The $42 million lab was completed in 2015 and opened in 2018.
According to documents obtained by Daily Mail, the scientists carried out experiments on bats, as part of a project funded by USA's National Institute of Health (NIH). A $3.7 million fund was granted to the lab.
The NIH, which comes under Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for biomedical and public health research.