The Wuhan Institute of Virology, accused by the United States of being responsible for the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, has three live bat strains of coronavirus, but none matching COVID-19, its director said in an interview.
Claims that the virus came from the institute are a “pure fabrication,” its director, Wang Yanyi, said on China’s state television, CGTN. “Like everyone else, we didn’t even know the virus existed,” she said in an interview aired on Saturday, but done on 13 May. “How could it have leaked from our lab?”
The first COVID-19 cases were detected in Wuhan, Central China, late last year. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, claiming about 340,000 lives so far.
Most scientists feel COVID-19 was probably transmitted to humans from an animal and many have pointed a finger at a market in Wuhan since live wild animals were reportedly sold there. However, with the Institute of Virology located just a few kilometres away, conspiracy theories that the virus may have leaked from there have abounded on the Internet in recent months.
Following press on the issue, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke in early May of an “investigation” into the theory.
The institution’s director admitted that it had isolated and obtained certain Coronaviruses from bats, but not COVID-19. “Now we have three strains of live viruses,” Wang said, but their highest similarity to COVID-19 “is only 79.8%.”
The Wuhan Institute of Virology studies some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens. Its researchers contributed to the body of knowledge on COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic, and their work was published in February in a scientific magazine.
Their research showed that the genome sequence of the novel Coronavirus is only 80% similar to that of SARS, the strain behind a previous epidemic in 2002-2003, and 96% similar to that of bat Coronaviruses.