A WUHAN lab posted a job advert calling for experts on coronavirus and bats just a week before Chinese officials revealed they were facing an outbreak.
Recruitment notices still listed on the official website of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) – just ten miles from the epicentre of the pandemic – show an advert was put out on December 24.
WIV is the most advanced laboratory of its kind in mainland China, and is the first to have biosafety level four – the highest warning level in the research of diseases.
The job ad posted on December 24 calls for scientists to join their team researching new viruses in bats and the infectiousness of coronaviruses.
China notified the World Health Organisation they were dealing with a mystery new coronavirus seven days later on December 31.
It comes as British security sources confirmed they were “no longer discounting” the theory the new coronavirus may have accidentally leaked from one of the two labs in Wuhan.
Meanwhile another ad, posted on November 29 looks for a researcher to help analyse the viral outbreaks to “reduce the harm caused by infectious diseases in humans”.
And a third on November 18, looks for a scientist to join the team to analyse how bats can carry coronaviruses without developing a disease.
The earliest known cases of the new coronavirus are known to have emerged in December, but one report claims patient zero may have been a 55-year-old man on November 17.
The lab is known to have been active in research into coronaviruses, and previously led research into Sars – which killed 773 people in an outbreak in 2003.
WIV’s job intriguing adverts were first pointed out by documentary filmmaker Matthew Tye in a YouTube video with 1.5million views as of April 6.
Mr Tye, who has lived in China for over 10 years, has almost 450,000 subscribers and has been regularly uploading videos about living in the country for seven years.
The video is titled “I Found The Source of Coronavirus” – but the scientific community have still expressed doubt over the leak theory.
The recruitment notices to probe coronaviruses in bats however are verified and are still listed on WIV’s Chinese language website, which is currently active and posting updates about their work as recently as April 3.
WIV is known for its research into coronavirus and bats, so it is possible the adverts may be coincidental.
Consensus is currently that coronavirus originated in animals and then jumped to humans – most likely at a wet market in Wuhan.
But questions are being asked about the virus, and the lab, amid accusations of a lack of transparency from China’s ruling Communist Party.
China has dismissed speculation about the origin of the virus as baseless, and WIV has also hit back at any allegation linking them to the coronavirus.
WIV is a £30million institute which opened its current high security lab in 2015 after ten years of construction.
It is a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is controlled by the government in Beijing.
The state-run People’s Daily newspaper also boasted in 2018 that the lab was capable of conducting experiments with “highly pathogenic microorganisms”.
Unverified local claims have suggested workers at the lab became infected by coronavirus after being sprayed with blood, and then carried in infection into the local population.
The December 24 advert informs applicants they will be reporting to Shi Zhengli, who is known as Bat Woman, and is considered an authority on coronaviruses.
She has angrily rebuffed claims her lab may have played a role in the outbreak, but did admit she “lost sleep” over the consideration.
Ms Zhengli swore on her life that the virus did not come from WIV.
She blamed the virus's spread on “nature punishing the human race for keeping uncivilized living habits”.
The researcher has told those claiming the virus came from her lab to “shut their stinking mouths”.
The first human infection also could have occurred as a laboratory accident
WIV has since the outbreak been part of the fight against the coronavirus, and were the first to publicly link the virus to bats.
Coronavirus has spread around the world, infecting almost 1.3million people and killing more than 70,000.
It is known to have originated in China, and politicians around the world have accused the Communist Party of attempting to cover-up the early stage of the virus.
A doctor who first warned about the virus was threatened by police, and then last month Chinese officials suggested the US military may have been responsible for coronavirus.
CHINA CORONAVIRUS TIMELINE
Coronavirus originated in Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world as a pandemic.
- December 31 – China alerts the World Health Organisation (WHO) to an unknown virus in Wuhan
- January 7 – WHO offcials identifiy the new virus as its linked to a seafood market
- January 11 – China announces its first death from the virus
- January 13 – The first case is reported outside China with a case in Thailand
- January 23 – Wuhan is placed under qurantine
- February 9 – Death toll in China surpasses Sars outbreak at 811
- February 11 – Coronavirus is dubbed Covid-19 by WHO
- February 18 – China's daily infection figures drops below 2,000 for first time
- March 11 – WHO declares outbreak a global pandemic
- March 18 – No new cases reports in China for first time since start of outbreak
- March 25 – China begins to relax quaratine restrictions on Wuhan and Hubei province
- March 31– US death toll surpasses China
- April 1 – China admits to unreported asymptomatic cases
- April 2– Global case count surpasses one million
- April 4 – China holds three minutes of silence to mark the dead
China now claims it has weathered the virus storm, and on Saturday mourned victims with a three minute silence as it positions itself as a world leader amid the pandemic.
British government sources however yesterday revealed security services are now considering a leak from a Wuhan lab as a potential source for the outbreak, reported The Mail on Sunday.
A source on the Cobra committee said: “Perhaps it is no coincidence that there is that laboratory in Wuhan. It is not discounted.”
The source added however they did not dispute the virus was “zoonotic” – meaning it originated in animals.
Downing Street has said it “does not recognise” the claims made by the source.
Pressure is now ratcheting up on China to come clean, and clarify what – if any – part the Wuhan labs played during the outbreak.
Despite denying any leak, China has issued new laws that call for facilities to ensure “biological safety” and improve management of viruses.
A leak from a Chinese lab led to an outbreak of Sars that killed one person and infected nine others in 2004.
The Chinese government confirmed it was an accident due to negligence and added that five officials were punished.
Scientists agree that conspiracy theories suggesting coronavirus is a bio-weapon created in an experiment are nonsense – but a lab accident with an existing disease has not yet been ruled out.
Biosecurity researcher Richard Ebright, a professor at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology, said the coronavirus behind the pandemic was 96.2 per cent similar to a bat virus discovered by the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2013 and studied at the nearby Wuhan Centre for Disease Control (WCDC).
The WCDC is another lab in the city, which is even just a stone’s throw from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market – which has been linked as a possible origin for the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Ebright said: “Bat coronaviruses are collected and studied by laboratories in multiple parts of China — including Wuhan Municipal CDC and Wuhan Institute of Virology.
"Therefore, the first human infection also could have occurred as a laboratory accident."
The expert claims coronaviruses were not studied at the top biosafety level at the Wuhan lab.
And when talking about WIV back in 2017, he questioned how safe the lab will be while speaking to the publication Nature – citing the previous leaks of Sars elsewhere in China.
He raised the question of a lab worker being infected with a virus by a live specimen in the same article, but cited monkeys rather than bats.
The Chinese embassy in London has previously hit back at speculation about the origin of the virus – saying it “disregards the tremendous efforts and huge sacrifice of China and its people”.
In a statement yesterday, a spokesman said: ““There has been no scientific or medical conclusion yet on the origin of Covid-19, as relevant tracing work is still underway.
“The WHO has made repeated statements that what the world is experiencing now is a global phenomenon, the source is undetermined, the focus should be on containment and any stigmatizing language referring to certain places must be avoided.”
WIV has also directly responded to reports about its links to Covid-19, and the Chinese government cracked down on “rumor mongering”.
Lab officials said the reports had “received close attention from all walks of life” and “caused great harm to our research staff on the front line of scientific research” back in February
They added staff had been working around the clock since the end of 2019 to trace the source of the coronavirus and improve detection rates – adding the theories "seriously interfered" with their efforts.
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A senior US State Department official said questions need to be answered about WIV, reports the Washington Times.
The official said it is “valid” to ask whether or not coronavirus may have leaked from the lab.
Dr Robert G. Darling, chief medical officer of Patronus Medical, accused China of hampering the search for the origin of the virus, the newspaper also reported.
He said: “The Chinese almost certainly know but they have not shared it.
“By learning its origin it will better help us understand the biology of the virus and how it behaves.”
However, amid the search for the origin the world continues to fight on against the coronavirus.
Britain is continuing to press ahead as the death toll nears 5,00 and the case count nears 50,000.
Last night, The Queen addressed the nation as she invoked images of World War 2 to encourage the UK to stay the course, obey the rules, and beat the bug.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hospitalised and given oxygen as he fights his coronavirus infection.
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