A Chinese scientist who is one of the world’s foremost experts on coronaviruses has been “muzzled” after revealing the genetic makeup of the new disease, which is crucial for developing diagnostic tests and vaccines.
The revelation will fuel new concerns about China’s concealment of the pandemic after it broke out in the city of Wuhan. Critics argue that Communist Party leaders have frustrated efforts to contain the epidemic before it explodes worldwide.
At the center of the new claims is Shi Zhengli, known as China’s “Bat Woman” after years of difficult virus-hunting expeditions in wet caves that have led to a series of important scientific discoveries.
The virologist was called back to her high security laboratory in Wuhan late last year after a mysterious new respiratory condition in the city was identified as a new coronavirus – and in three days, she finished her sequencing. genetic.
Virology lab like Shi Zhengli’s has completed genetic sequencing of coronavirus
His team’s work and several other breakthroughs in the following days indicated that the virus was linked to horseshoe bats found more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan, a region in southern China.
Their results showed that it was similar to SARS, a respiratory disease that sparked an epidemic in 33 countries after emerging from China in 2002.
Gao Yu, a Chinese journalist released last week after 76 days of confinement in Wuhan, said she spoke to Shi during his incarceration and said, “We learned later that his institute had completed genetic sequencing and related testing by the January 2, but was muzzled. “
The Mail on Sunday learned that the same day, Yanyi Wang, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, sent an email to staff and key officials ordering them not to release information about the disease.
She warned, according to a social media leak confirmed by activists and the Hong Kong media, that “inappropriate and inaccurate information” was causing “general panic” – thinking she was referring to eight medical whistleblowers including warnings to citizens locals had led to their arrest.
Wang said the National Health Commission unequivocally demands that all tests, clinical data, test results, epidemic-related findings not be published on social media platforms, nor [it] be disclosed to all media, including official government media, and not [it] be communicated to partner institutions. “
Eight days later, a team led by a professor from Shanghai who received samples from an infected patient, published a genome sequence on an open access platform.
His laboratory was closed for “rectification” two days later.
Shi Zhengli is known as China’s “bat woman” after years of difficult virus-hunting expeditions in wet caves that have led to a series of important scientific discoveries.
At the time, the public was informed that no new cases had been reported in Wuhan for more than a week and that there was no clear evidence of human transmission, although dozens of agents health begin to get sick with the disease.
In an online conference last month, Shi Zhengli said his team discovered on January 14 that the new virus could infect people – six days before this fact was revealed by China.
On the same day, the World Health Organization released a tweet supporting China’s denial of human transmissions.
The Shi team published its data identifying the disease on January 23 on a scientific portal before its publication the following month by the journal Nature.
He said the genomic sequence was 96% identical to another virus they had found in horseshoe bats in Yunnan.
Shi is a specialist in emerging diseases and has gained worldwide fame for his work on the links between bats and coronaviruses, aided by expeditions to collect samples and swabs in the fetid cave systems of southern China. .
She was a key member of the team that traced SARS to horseshoe bats through civets, a cat-like creature often eaten in China.
Bats have been associated with seven major epidemics in the past three decades
Bats have been associated with seven major epidemics in the past three decades.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, based ten miles from the wildlife market, accused of being the source of Covid-19, developed a £ 30 million high security laboratory after the SARS outbreak with l aid from France.
It was the first laboratory in China with P4 status – indicating the highest biosecurity levels in the world – and contains the largest bank of viruses in Asia.
It was this fact that sparked now-expected conspiracy theories that Covid-19 was created by man.
Shi, deputy director of the laboratory, admits that when she was called to a conference to investigate the new illness, she first wondered if a coronavirus could have escaped from her unit.
She warned of the danger of epidemics of bat-borne viruses. But she says she did not expect such an epidemic in Wuhan, central China, as her studies suggested that the southern subtropics were at the highest risk of such “zoonotic” transmission to humans.
Shi told the respected scientific journal Scientific American last month his relief when, after checking the elimination records, none of the genome sequences matched their virus samples.
“It really made me lose my mind. I hadn’t slept in the blink of an eye for days, “she said.
For 16 years, she has dived into caves and crevices filled with bats perched in areas like Yunnan and Guangdong, where SARS first broke out.
His team took samples of blood, saliva and feces while testing local populations for antibodies.
There were initial suggestions that pangolins may have harbored the virus before it started infecting people in Wuhan five months ago, just as civets “amplified” the SARS virus, but one study found last week suggested that the human versions were closer to the bat samples.
The Wuhan wildlife market was closed the day after China announced a new pneumonialike virus to WHO.
However, party leaders seemed more focused on the success of a key Communist Party meeting and the impending New Year celebrations, when millions of people were traveling across the country. Lianchao Han, a Washington-based pro-democracy activist, said the Chinese government had tried to block information about the virus.
He said, “They thought it could be controlled, and President Xi Jinping also demanded not to spoil the Chinese New Year. “
As the disease spread and deaths rose in China, a report in the Beijing News identified a researcher at the institute as “patient zero” – the first person to be infected.
Shi was subjected to savage attacks on social media as “devil’s mother” and responded with furious denial on her account on social media WeChat, claiming that the new virus was “nature punishing the human race for to have kept uncivilized life habits ”.
“I swear with my life – [the virus] has nothing to do with the laboratory, “she said, telling those who spread false rumors to” close your stinky mouth. “
Shi has worked alongside several of the world’s best infectious disease experts. “She is a superb scientist and a very friendly person,” said James LeDuc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory, a high-security biological containment center in Texas.
“She has been very open and collaborative during the decade I have worked with.”