Wuhan lab staff should clear up coronavirus rumours and lies and defend institute’s name, says scientist
- Former staff member says the virology institute is at the centre of a smear campaign and staff should be proactive in clearing its reputation
- Zhao Fei says it is important during the pandemic for the lab to reveal the truth promptly and openly, despite the fear of criticism
“From my personal point of view, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Shi Zhengli should stand up and refute the rumours and stigmas one by one but they are also subject to certain restrictions in this situation,” Zhao wrote.
“I believe it is better for you to honestly, objectively, and rationally tell everyone the real situation, including your work, efforts, achievements and the pressure you are facing, your responsibilities, and even your mistakes … it would be far better and more convincing than my response and analysis.”
While he acknowledged that it took valuable time for scientists to counter rumours, Zhao wrote in ScienceNet that an official spokesperson for the institute should promptly release information during the pandemic, grant permission for individual scientists to speak up about their work and take action against people spreading rumours or false information.
ScienceNet is a Chinese science blog co-sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Engineering, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and China Association for Science and Technology.
Most scientists around the world say the new coronavirus is most likely of natural origin because its genomic sequence is about 96 per cent identical to that of the Rhinolophus affinis bat. There is a consensus in the international scientific community that these bats probably provided the natural reservoir for the virus and it was somehow transmitted to humans, possibly via another animal.
While the exact origins of Sars-CoV-2, the official name of the virus, have not yet been found, studies have shown that the virus likely had an animal origin. A study led by Kristian Andersen, from the Scripps Research Institute in California, analysed genomic data to find evidence that the virus was “not a laboratory construct or a purposely manipulated virus”.
Dimitrios Paraskevis, an epidemiologist from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, said that there had not been any evidence in the genomic sequences of the novel coronavirus of genetic experimentation, so the likelihood it originated from the lab was low.
“Based on previously published findings, the likelihood that the Sars-CoV-2 jumped to humans in a research lab is not very high,” he said.
Beijing and Washington have sparred over culpability in the pandemic. The White House has accused the Chinese government of cover-ups and a lack of transparency, while Beijing said this was an effort to shift the blame from missteps in the US pandemic response.
In his piece, Zhao questioned the “ulterior motives” of some people raising concerns about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and defended the security protocols in place at the top-level lab. He also outlined the work the institute had done since the first coronavirus cases were reported, including successfully isolating the Covid-19 virus strain and conducting research into vaccines.
“Even while the research institute has worked its hardest to fight against the epidemic, it has faced rumours that are causing a great clamour, suspicions with no evidence, clearly targeted rumours and sinister slander from some new media outlets,” he wrote.
“After the virus spread to the entire world, media and politicians in some countries disregarded the professional opinions of the world’s scientists to insist on pointing a finger at China and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, if not to concoct sensationalised fake news, then to shift the blame and divert attention, or for some other political purpose.”
Zhao said there was no evidence that the virus was not of natural origin or that weak security protocols in the Wuhan lab had allowed the virus to leak.