Latest: Chinese scientist advises not to rule out COVID lab-leak theory
NBS Webdesk

An employee, wearing a hazmat suit, holds a swab sample just collected during a daily COVID-19 pcr test on a member of the media ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on January 27, 2022. — AFP

A former top Chinese government scientist advises not to rule out the possibility that the COVID virus leaked from a laboratory.

Despite China’s government dismissing any suggestion the disease may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory, Prof George Gao, the head of China’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC), believes otherwise, the BBC reported.

As head of China’s CDC during the pandemic, Prof Gao played a key role in the pandemic response and efforts to trace its origins.

Prof Gao said: “You can always suspect anything. That’s science. Don’t rule out anything.”

According to the report, during a BBC podcast, Prof Gao gave a “possible sign” that the Chinese government “may have taken the lab leak theory more seriously than its official statements suggest”.

The current vice president of the National Natural Science Foundation of China informed that some kind of “formal investigation” into the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was carried out.

He said that the government organised something, but it did not involve his own department, the China CDC.

He agreed that “another branch of government” carried out a “formal search of the WIV,” one of China’s top national laboratories known to have spent years studying coronaviruses.

“Yeah,” he said, “that lab was double-checked by the experts in the field.”

It’s the first time that an official investigation has been acknowledged to have taken place, but despite Prof Gao’s claim that he hasn’t seen the findings, he has “heard” that the lab received a clean bill of health, the report said.

“I think their conclusion is that they are following all the protocols. They haven’t found any wrongdoing.” he clarified.

This photo shows Professor George F Gao, Vice-President of the National Natural Science Foundation of China. — AFP/File
This photo shows Professor George F Gao, Vice-President of the National Natural Science Foundation of China. — AFP/File

It is believed that the virus that causes COVID originally originated in bats. However, the topic of how it got from bats to us is far more contentious, and there were initially two main options.

One is that the virus naturally passed from bats to people, possibly through other animals, which most scientists agree with.

Meanwhile, other scientists claim that the data is insufficient to completely rule out the main alternative theory, which is that the virus infected someone who was taking part in research intended to better understand the danger of viruses originating from nature.

On the contrary, Prof Gao’s comments seem to be severely at odds with China’s viewpoint.

The Chinese embassy in the UK said in a statement: “The so-called ‘lab leak’ is a lie created by anti-China forces. It is politically motivated and has no scientific basis.”

In spite of all the chaos linked to this argument, a bizarre, unsupported third notion that the Chinese government has been promoting is its own.

The Chinese government claims that “the virus didn’t come from the lab or the market but may have been brought into the country on frozen food packaging.”

Prof Gao’s remarks could be viewed as the more scientific version of the Chinese government’s claim — that it excludes both the lab and the market — because he excludes neither. 

Ultimately, both are founded on the notion that there isn’t enough evidence.

“We really don’t know where the virus came from; the question is still open,” Prof Gao said.

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