A laboratory technician working on samples from people to be tested for the new coronavirus at “Fire Eye” laboratory in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province in February.
The UK government believes the coronavirus may have accidentally leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan where Chinese scientists were researching the virus, according to a Mail on Sunday newspaper report.
Most experts believe the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus began in markets in the Chinese city of Wuhan when animals passed on the disease to humans.
However, The Mail on Sunday report says that while officials in Boris Johnson’s government believe this is still the most likely explanation, it is “no longer being discounted” that a leak from a nearby laboratory actually caused the outbreak.
A member of the UK government’s emergency committee of senior officials, COBRA, told the newspaper: “There is a credible alternative view [to the zoonotic theory] based on the nature of the virus. Perhaps it is no coincidence that there is that laboratory in Wuhan. It is not discounted.”
There are two scientific labs within close proximity of Wuhan where scientists are believed to have been carrying out tests on the coronavirus: the Institute of Virology, and the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control.
Both are within 10 miles of the animal market where it is believed the outbreak started.
The reports come a Prime Minister Boris Johnson is admitted to hospital for “persistent symptoms” of the coronavirus.
Johnson was admitted to a London hospital on Sunday where he received oxygen treatment and remained for tests on Monday.
Scientists disagree on whether an accidental laboratory leak is a plausible explanation.
One biologist who believes it cannot be ruled out is Professor Richard Ebright of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology.
Ebright is quoted in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as saying many of the scientists in Wuhan who have been working on the coronavirus have only had “minimal protections” against infection.
“Virus collection, culture, isolation, or animal infection at BSL-2 [moderate biosafety level] with a virus having the transmission characteristics of the outbreak virus would pose substantial risk of infection of a lab worker, and from the lab worker, the public,” he says.
He goes on to say the evidence available leaves “a basis to rule out a lab construct, but no basis to rule out a lab accident.”
Johnson’s government has reportedly started to question the veracity of China’s statements regarding the coronavirus.
Last week it was reported that UK officials were furious with the Chinese state for spreading disinformation about the severity of the pandemic, and believed China had up to 40 more cases of the virus than it had claimed.
On Sunday, March 29, senior UK minister Michael Gove told the BBC he was skeptical of the China numbers.
“It was the case … [that] the first case of coronavirus in China was established in December of last year, but it was also the case that some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this,” he said.
A report by the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee published on Monday, April 6 accused the Chinese government of spreading “disinformation” about the spread of the virus.
“Disinformation about COVID-19 has already cost lives,” the committee found.
“It is essential that the Government issues clear and transparent messages at home to confront and rebut disinformation spread by foreign powers.”
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