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Shi Zhengli said scientists are in a race against time to prevent further deadly outbreaks – as well as calling for great international cooperation, even though China has been accused of a lack of transparency over the illness, which emerged in the city of Wuhan towards the end of last year. Shi, known as China’s “bat woman”, is deputy director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, located just a few miles from Huanan Seafood Market, where the illness was first identified.
She has spent significant time studying coronaviruses and in 2015 confirmed it was possible to jump from one species to another.
She told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN: “If we want to prevent human beings from suffering from the next infectious disease outbreak, we must go in advance to learn of these unknown viruses carried by wild animals in nature and give early warnings.
“If we don’t study them there will possibly be another outbreak.
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The unknown viruses we have discovered are actually just the tip of the iceberg
“The unknown viruses we have discovered are actually just the tip of the iceberg.”
Earlier this month US President Donald Trump claimed to have seen evidence the coronavirus had originated from the lab where Shi works, while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has suggested there was a “significant amount of evidence” to suggest it had escaped.
However, Shi insisted the viruses she had worked with did not match the genetics of the one responsible for COVID-19.
Writing on social media, she said she would “swear on my life” her work was unrelated to virus which caused the pandemic.
Her boss, Wang Yanyi, has furthermore dismissed the link as “pure fabrication”.
Persistent rumours suggesting the coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan had been surfaced regularly for months.
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In February, a report entitled The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus, been authored by Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao from South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, pointed the finger at Wuhan Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, another P4 lab in the city, which is located just a few hundred yards from Huanan.
The authors detailed one incident in which they claimed a member of staff was “once attacked by bats and the blood of a bat was shot on his skin”.
They added: “He knew the extreme danger of the infection so he quarantined himself for 14 days.
“In another accident, he quarantined himself again because bats peed on him.”
However, most experts reject the suggestion – Dr Anthony Fauci, the United States’ chief virologist, told National Geographic earlier this month: “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, the scientific evidence is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.”
Almost 5.5 million cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed worldwide, with 346,269 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Research Centre.
In China itself, the figure is 84,102 and 4,638, with sceptics suggesting both numbers are suspiciously low, fuelling talk of a cover-up.
Speaking last month, Wuhan resident Liu Pe’ien, where fresh lockdown restrictions were imposed following a cluster of new cases, suggested the true death total was ten times the official one.
Additionally, lockdown restrictions were imposed in the cities of Jilin and Shulan, in the north-east of the country, earlier this month after more fresh cases.
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