The Scientists at China’s maximum-security Wuhan Institute of Virology banded together with the Chinese Army officials to study animal viruses and the diseases caused by them—something that has been vehemently denied by Beijing—but a report recently published by The Mail affirms.
The documents in possession of The Mail reportedly reveal that a countrywide plan, at the behest of a state body, was launched 9 years ago to investigate the origins of the new viruses and uncover the “dark matter” of biology responsible for the spread of diseases.
The project was a ‘success’ as one of the scientists involved in this collaborative initiative, who also published the first genetic sequence of the Covid-19 virus in January last year, discovered 143 new diseases in the first three years of the project alone.
The recent findings by The Mail jibes with the longstanding accusations levelled by the United States that the Chinese Army had used the Wuhan Institute of Virology(WIV) for bequeathing the intractable coronavirus to the world.
The project included five team leaders, including Shi Zhengli, the WIV virologist who had earned the moniker ‘Batwoman’ for her passionate researches into bats and viruses. Curiously, Zhengli was honoured as ‘advanced worker of the Chinese Academy of Science(CAS) by Beijing in January 2021.
Zhengli was quick to dismiss the American allegations of collaboration between the Chinese military and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Denying the allegations, Zhengli had last month said: “I don’t know of any military work at the WIV. That info is incorrect.”
While Zhengli refuted the accusations of the Chinese military’s involvement at the WIV, the project included another team member—Cao Wuchun, a senior army officer and government advisor on bioterrorism. Wuchun is among those listed on project reports as a researcher from the Academy of Military Medical Sciences of the People’s Liberation Army and works in close collaboration with other military scientists. He is also the director of the Military Biosafety Expert Committee.
Wuchun, who studied at Cambridge University, is also on the advisory board of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. He was also the second-in-command of the military team that was rushed into Wuhan to combat the new virus and develop a vaccine, said the Daily Mail report.
The report also shed light on a project called the discovery of animal-delivered pathogens carried by wild animals, which investigated the evolution of organisms that could infect human beings. Launched in 2012 and financed by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the project was led by Xu Jianguo, who preened himself at a conference in 2019 that ‘a giant network of infectious disease prevention and control is taking shape’.
Interestingly, Jianguo also presided over the first expert group probing the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan. He denied human transmission initially, despite evidence to the contrary from hospitals across the city. He also insisted in mid-January that the epidemic was limited and would eventually fizzle out in the coming weeks.
In 2018, the findings by scientists published in international journals found four new pathogens and ten new bacteria while ‘more than 1,640 new viruses were discovered using metagenomics technology’. This research is based on extracting the genetic material from samples, such as those collected by Zhengli from bat faeces and blood in the cave networks of Southern China.
Such widespread sampling helped Zhengli make a revelation last year about RaTG13, the closest known relative to the new strain of coronavirus that causes Covid. And predictably, it was stored at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It was later discovered that she had changed the name of the virus identified in a previous paper, in a bid to obscure its connection with three miners who died from a strange respiratory disease they caught while clearing bat faeces.
Prof Zhengli had also conceded that 8 more SARS viruses had been discovered from the mine. The institute took its database of virus samples offline in September 2019, just a few weeks before the COVID-19 epidemic broke out in Wuhan.
Chinese dissidents claim coronavirus was a ‘man-made’ virus at Wuhan Institute of Virology
In the last few years, under the leadership of Premier Xi Jinping, the Chinese military has scaled up its hiring of scientists, as a part of the country’s efforts to attain global supremacy. Lianchao Han, a dissident who used to work for the Chinese government, said Cao’s involvement raised doubts that military researchers who are experts in coronaviruses might also be involved in bio-defense operations.
In September 2020, Chinese virologist Dr Li-Meng Yan had revealed that the coronavirus was a man-made virus at a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan. She had contended that the coronavirus was made in a government-controlled laboratory in Wuhan and had asserted that she has scientific proof to back the claim.
Speaking at a British talk show, scientist Dr Li-Meng Yan said she was assigned to investigate “new pneumonia” in Wuhan when she discovered a cover-up operation by the Chinese government’s to publicly deny the virus pandemic despite being aware of its presence.
“This virus is not from nature,” said Yan, adding that the genome sequence had a human fingerprint. Dr Li-Meng, who was a scientist at the Hong Kong School of Public Health, had to flee the country because she feared retribution from the Chinese Communist Party.
Growing belligerence of China against nations demanding a probe into the origins of coronavirus
The US State Department also raised apprehensions over risky ‘gain of function’ experiments to manipulate coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab and alleged that researchers at the institute fell sick with coronavirus symptoms weeks before the outbreak ripped through the central Chinese city. The former US President Donald Trump too insisted that the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
China was recently under the firing line of Britain, the US and 12 other countries for denying to share key data and samples after a joint team of World Health Organisation and Chinese scientists termed the possibility of a lab leak being the reason for the pandemic as ‘extremely unlikely’.
However, China has been increasingly combative in tackling the allegations levelled against it. It has sought to economically punish countries who demanded a fair and impartial probe into the origins of the coronavirus. Beijing has also been belligerent in its denial of the accusations that the virus originated from Wuhan, launching aggressive propaganda campaigns instead to allege that the virus emerged from outside China.