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New video of live bats in Wuhan lab sparks controversy

  • Published at 09:06 pm June 15th, 2021
Security personnel keep watch outside Wuhan Institute of Virology
File photo: Security personnel keep watch outside Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the WHO team, in Wuhan on February 3, 2021 Reuters

The video revealed that initial investigation by the WHO was not accurate, but experts still say that zoonosis is the most probable origin of Covid-19

In a “phase two” investigation into Covid-19’s origin, newly released video revealed that live bats were kept in cages inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, contradicting the findings of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The lab was the center of theories that Covid-19 wasn't transmitted from bats to people through an unknown link, but was leaked from the institute, reported the New Zealand Herald.

However, WHO and China conducted a joint investigation into the origins of the virus to dispel these thoughts as conspiracy, stating the chance of a laboratory leak is “extremely unlikely” and the idea that bats were present was faulty.

In December, Dr Peter Daszak, zoologist and member of the WHO team, wrote in a tweet, “No bats were sent to Wuhan lab for genetic analysis of viruses collected in the field. That's not how this science works. We collect bat samples, send them to the lab. We release bats where we catch them.”

He described this as a widely circulated conspiracy theory, adding, “They do not have live or dead bats in them. There is no evidence anywhere that this happened. It's an error I hope will be corrected."

An official video from May 2017 from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, obtained by Sky News, reveals bats held in a cage at the institute and a scientist feeding a worm to a bat. 

Daszak also corrected his Twitter remarks earlier this month, writing that the WHO team had not asked the institute if they kept bats. Still, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if, like many other virology labs, they were trying to set up a bat colony.”

He also included many labs around the world house bats to test viral immune responses among other experiments.

“None are successfully doing this at scale like lab mice & animals are always screened virus-free before [experiments], so even if WIV were trying this, it's [probably] irrelevant for origins.”

‘Zoonosis’

Despite the lab leak theory gaining traction, no new scientific evidence supports the theory.

Rather, the possibility that Covid-19 jumped from bats to humans through an immediate animal, known as “zoonosis,” is still referred to as the most likely scenario by experts. 

Experts, including Dominic Dwyer, NSW director of public health pathology, told SBS News that this pathway has been in recent viruses, including the original SARS and MERS. 

“Nearly all human viruses identified in the last 40 or 50 years have come from animals in one form or another, and bats are a major contributor. So, there's a history there and it's well documented,” Dwyer added. 

Citing that Chinese authorities reported many cases in Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, he described that wet market scenarios are “a perfect recipe for an outbreak.”

Additionally, Queensland University of Technology international wildlife law researcher, Dr Katie Woolaston, heeded a warning Sydney Morning Herald earlier in June that allowing the lab leak theory to garner influence could yield detrimental consequences.

“The discourse detracts from the fact that epidemiologists and veterinary pathologists and other scientists in this area have been warning governments and the community for years that a zoonotic spillover with pandemic potential was increasingly likely to occur," she said.

She added, "It takes focus away from the fact that the drivers of zoonotic spillover are human-induced environmental changes, and that needs to be addressed … this increased belief detracts from the real and urgent need to enact preventative laws and policies.”

Importance of Transparency

At the G7 summit, US President Joe Biden and other world leaders called for a “transparent, expert-led, and science-based” second investigation into Covid-19 by the WHO in China. 

Last month, Biden ordered national intelligence agencies to heighten their efforts to investigate Covid-19’s origins, particularly as their intelligence community is not certain what the virus was a consequence of. 

While the theory was initially dismissed because it was ex-president of the US Donald Trump’s explanation, Dwyer emphasized that "evidence is needed to “take the science further.”

Like Woolastan, Dwyer called for cooperation and collaboration to solve these scientific problems.

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