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The Chinese virological institute in the city where COVID-19 first appeared had three types of bat corona viruses in place, but none matched the new spread that caused chaos around the world, the director said.
Scientists think COVID-19 – which first appeared in Wuhan and has killed around 340,000 people worldwide – comes from bats and can be transmitted to humans through other mammals.
But the director of the Wuhan Virology Institute told the CGTN state television station that claims made by US President Donald Trump and others that the virus leaked from the facility was “pure fabrication”.
In an interview filmed on May 13 but broadcast on Saturday night, Wang Yanyi said that the center had “isolated and obtained several coronaviruses from bats.”
“Now we have three types of living viruses … But their highest similarity with SARS-CoV-2 is only 79.8 percent,” he said, referring to the type of corona virus that causes COVID-19.
One of their research teams, led by Professor Shi Zhengli, has been researching the bat corona virus since 2004 and focusing on “tracing SARS sources,” the tension behind another virus outbreak nearly two decades ago.
“We know that the entire SARS-CoV-2 genome is only 80 percent similar to SARS. This is a clear difference,” he said.
“So, in Professor Shi’s previous research, they didn’t pay attention to viruses like that that were less similar to the SARS virus.”
Conspiracy rumors that biological safety laboratories were involved in the outbreak circled online for months before Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought the theory into the mainstream by claiming that there was evidence of pathogens originating from the agency.
The laboratory said it received an unknown virus sample on December 30, determined the viral genome sequence on January 2 and submitted information about the pathogen to WHO on January 11.
Wang said in an interview that before receiving a sample in December, their team had never “discovered, researched or stored a virus.”
“The fact is, like other people, we didn’t even know the virus existed,” he said. “How can it leak from our lab when we never have it?”
The World Health Organization said Washington did not offer evidence to support “speculative” claims.
In an interview with Scientific American, Shi said the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence did not match one of the corona bat viruses that had previously been collected and studied by his laboratory.
© 2020 AFP
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