The possibility that the COVID-19 virus has escaped from a laboratory should not be ruled out, George Gao, a former Chinese government scientist, told the BBC, the first expert linked to the Beijing authorities to admit that possibility.
Gao, who was head of China’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), played a key role in the response to the pandemic and efforts to trace its origins.
So far, the Chinese government has dismissed any suggestion that the disease originated from the Chinese laboratory in Wuhan.
The theory that circulated when the pandemic broke out in 2020 was that the virus spread naturally from bats to humans, perhaps through other animals, and that the origin was in a market in Wuhan.
“You can always suspect anything. That is science. Don’t rule anything out,” Gao said in an interview on BBC Radio 4.
A virologist and immunologist, Gao is currently vice president of the National Natural Science Foundation of China after retiring from the CDC last year.
Gao also indicated that some form of formal investigation was carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a sign, the BBC says, that the Chinese government may have taken the leak theory laboratory more seriously than their official statements suggest.
“The government organized something,” he said, but added that his own department, the China CDC, was not involved.
The network asked the scientist to clarify whether that meant another branch of the government had made a formal search of the WIV, one of China’s top national laboratories, known for having spent years studying coronaviruses.
“Yes,” he replied, “that lab was reviewed twice by the experts in the field.”
This is the first admission that any kind of official investigation was done, but although Prof Gao says he has not seen the result, he claimed to have “heard” that the lab received a certificate of good standing.
“I think the bottom line is that they are following all the protocols. They have not found (any) irregularities,” she added.
Knowing how the virus got from bats to humans has been somewhat controversial because there were two possibilities.
One is that the virus spread naturally from bats to humans, perhaps via other animals, and many scientists say the weight of evidence suggests that is the most likely scenario.
But other scientists stress that there is not enough evidence to rule out the main alternative possibility: that the virus infected someone involved in research designed to better understand the threat from naturally occurring viruses.
With information from EFE
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