The Wuhan Institute for Virology has admitted to having three live strains of bat coronavirus on-site, though the lab insists that none are the source of the current coronavirus pandemic, AFP reported.
The lab’s director, Wang Yanyi, said in an interview aired Saturday that the lab has “isolated and obtained some coronaviruses from bats” since 2004, AFP reported.
“Now we have three strains of live viruses… But their highest similarity to SARS-CoV-2 [the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19] only reaches 79.8%… It’s an obvious difference.”
While it is commonly accepted among scientists that the coronavirus outbreak began in the Wuhan wet markets, where a wide range of live animals are sold and kept in close proximity, the Wuhan lab has been speculated by some to be a potential source.
Analysis of the first 41 COVID-19 patients in medical journal the Lancet found that 27 of them had direct exposure to the Wuhan wet market. But the same analysis found that the first known case of the illness did not.
These theories became more widespread in recent months, with many high ranking lawmakers and officials among the Republican Party in the US – including US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – accusing the lab of poor safety conditions that could have accidentally sparked the outbreak.
Though biologists have confirmed that the virus was not man-made, theories have been floated that the virus may have accidentally escaped from the Wuhan lab, which had been studying bat-related coronaviruses.
However, while the strains of bat coronavirus in the lab only reach 79.8% similarity, other strains of bat coronavirus found elsewhere in southern China have been observed to be up to 96.2% identical to the human SARS-CoV-2
China, as well as the laboratory itself, has denied the allegations, with Yanyi referring to them as a “pure fabrication.”
According to Yanyi, the lab’s scientists had never “encountered, researched or kept the virus” before receiving samples on December 30, after it had already spread throughout Wuhan.
“In fact, like everyone else, we didn’t even know the virus existed,” she said, according to AFP.
“How could it have leaked from our lab when we never had it?”