Wuhan lab denies links to SARS-CoV-2 virus strains

Its three strains ‘do not match’ the COVID-19 causing virus

May 24, 2020 09:52 pm | Updated 09:52 pm IST - Beijing

A medical worker taking a swab sample from a person in Beijing on Sunday.

A medical worker taking a swab sample from a person in Beijing on Sunday.

The Chinese virology institute at the centre of U.S. allegations that it may have been the source of the COVID-19 pandemic has three live strains of bat coronavirus on-site, but none match the new global contagion, its director has said.

Also read: China stealing US research on COVID-19: Pompeo

Scientists think COVID-19 originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal.

But the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology told state broadcaster CGTN that claims made by U.S. President Donald Trump and others the virus could have leaked from the facility were “pure fabrication”.

In the interview filmed on May 13 but broadcast on Saturday night, Wang Yanyi said the centre has “isolated and obtained some coronaviruses from bats”. “Now we have three strains of live viruses... But their highest similarity to SARS-CoV-2 only reaches 79.8 percent,” she said, referring to the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19. One of their research teams, led by Professor Shi Zhengli, has been researching bat coronaviruses since 2004 and focused on the “source tracing of SARS”, the strain behind another virus outbreak nearly two decades ago.

“We know that the whole genome of SARS-CoV-2 is only 80% similar to that of SARS. It’s an obvious difference,” she said. “So, in Professor Shi’s past research, they didn’t pay attention to such viruses which are less similar to the SARS virus.”

Also read: Coronavirus | China refutes 24 ‘lies’ by U.S.

Chinese scientists have said that the virus first emerged at a market selling live animals in Wuhan, though officials in Beijing more recently cast doubt about its origins.

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