The former head of China's Center for Disease Control (CDC) now says that the possibility that the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology should not be ruled out.
"You can always suspect anything," Dr. George Gao, who played a key role in the efforts to trace the pandemic's origins and in the response to the disease's spread, said in an interview for the BBC Radio 4 podcast "Fever: The Hunt for Covid's Origin," reported the BBC Tuesday. "That's science. Don't rule out anything."
The Chinese government has continued to deny suggestions that the disease may have originated in the Wuhan facility, and has not appeared to take the lab leak theory seriously.
However, Gao, who retired from the CDC last year and is now the vice president of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, also says there was some kind of formal investigation that was taken place at the lab.
"The government organized something," Gao said, noting that the investigation didn't involve his department at the CDC.
But, the Wuhan laboratory, one of China's top national facilities, was "double-checked by the experts in the field," said Gao.
His comments mark the first acknowledgment that China conducted an official investigation. Gao said he hasn't seen the results of the probe. He's heard the lab got a clean bill of health and that it is "following all the protocols. They haven't found [any] wrongdoing."
The new BBC podcast, which has been examining the origins of the pandemic, also spoke with Singapore-based scientist Dr. Wang Linfa, who had been visiting the Wuhan laboratory in January 2020 as the outbreak was starting to take hold. He said that a colleague at the laboratory had told him she was worried about a possible lab leak, but she also dismissed it.
Wang, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, is an honorary professor at the Wuhan facility and collaborates with Dr. Shi Zhengli, a professor with the same specialty, who works there.
As they are two of the world's top experts on corona viruses in bats, they have earned the nicknames Batman and Batwoman. Wang says Shi told him she "lost sleep for a day or two" as she was worried that "there's a sample in her lab that she did not know of, but has a virus, contaminated something, and got out."
However, she said she checked her samples and they did not contain evidence of the coronavirus causing COVID or other viruses that could have sparked the outbreak.
Wang also said that there is "zero chance" that Shi or her team had found evidence of a leak as they behaved like nothing happened. This included making plans for dinner and a karaoke session.
Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence documents that have been declassified suggest researchers in the Wuhan facility were ill in autumn of 2019 and had symptoms that were "consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses."
Wang suggested to Shi that she take blood samples from her team to test them for COVID antibodies in January 2020. The tests were conducted and everyone tested negative, she reported.
Wang, meanwhile, believes the virus was passed to humans in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, where many of the early cases were among customers or workers, a theory reached in the report "The Proximal Origin of Sars-Cov-2" written by some of the most prominent scientists in virology and emerging disease, that concludes there was not a lab leak.
Columbia University epidemiology professor Dr. Ian Lipkin, one of the paper's authors, said he now has doubts about that conclusion.
He said he still believes the market is the most likely explanation, but says scenarios about the laboratory can't be excluded.
Lipkin also said there is another Wuhan laboratory that is run by the Wuhan Center for Disease Control near the Wuhan market. The Chinese CDC's lab was known to be involved in blood and fecal samples from wild bats, and sometimes their work was done without the use of protective equipment, according to news reports from China.
"The people who work there could have become infected while they're in a cave collecting bats," Lipkin said, noting he hadn't been aware of that lab when he helped write the March 2020 paper.
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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