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Australian scientist working in Wuhan Institute admits 'I don't absolutely write off' leak theory


An Australian scientist who was the only foreign researcher at the Wuhan laboratory at the centre of the leak theory has said she did not see anything ‘strange’ but admits she is ‘not naive enough’ to dismiss the speculation.

Danielle Anderson, 42, an expert in bat-borne viruses, researched at the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s BSL-4 until November 2019, around the same time three researchers allegedly became ill at the lab.

But she says she never saw anyone become sick and she never showed any symptoms of Covid-19, and regularly tested negatively before her vaccination.

The scientist added that many of her colleagues in Wuhan came with her to Singapore for a conference in December 2019 but there was no word of any illness. 

She told Bloomberg: ‘If people were sick, I assume that I would have been sick—and I wasn’t. I was tested for coronavirus in Singapore before I was vaccinated, and had never had it.

‘There was no chatter. Scientists are gossipy and excited. There was nothing strange from my point of view going on at that point that would make you think something is going on here.’

Australian scientist Danielle Anderson (pictured) said she did not see anything 'strange' at the Wuhan Institute of Virology but admits she is 'not naive enough' to dismiss the speculation

Australian scientist Danielle Anderson (pictured) said she did not see anything ‘strange’ at the Wuhan Institute of Virology but admits she is ‘not naive enough’ to dismiss the speculation

China and the lab’s most famous researcher, Shi Zhengli, known as Bat Woman, have repeatedly denied that anyone from the facility became ill with Covid-19, despite a US intelligence report suggesting three workers were hospitalised with an unknown illness in the months before the outbreak at the nearby wet market.

Despite playing down the theory that the virus was leaked from the lab, Anderson admitted: ‘I could foresee how things could maybe happen. I’m not naive enough to say I absolutely write this off.’

She believes it emerged naturally and says she is not surprised that no one has pinpointed Covid’s exact origins since it took almost a decade to discover where SARS came from.

But she still wants an investigation to firmly prove how the devastating virus came into existence. 

The Wuhan lab leak theory was quickly peddled by Donald Trump and his supporters, but it was immediately dismissed as a conspiracy theory by mainstream outlets and scientists.

Speculation has grown in recent months after the US intelligence report was leaked, prompting Joe Biden to call for an investigation.

China and the lab's most famous researcher, Shi Zhengli, known as Bat Woman, have repeatedly denied that anyone from the facility became ill with Covid-19

China and the lab’s most famous researcher, Shi Zhengli, known as Bat Woman, have repeatedly denied that anyone from the facility became ill with Covid-19

Anderson maintains that everything she saw at the laboratory was above board and very typical of the other places she has worked.

She said: ‘It’s not that it was boring, but it was a regular lab that worked in the same way as any other high-containment lab. What people are saying is just not how it is.’

The researcher started working with the Wuhan lab in 2016 when she was scientific director of the biosafety lab at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School.

Her work focuses on why viruses such as Ebola and Nipah cause no disease in bats even though that’s where they circulate.

After a distinguished career that has taken her from Australia to working as a lab technician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, post-doctoral work in Montreal and work in Singapore, Anderson ended up in Wuhan after it offered funding for international collaboration.

Despite being the only foreigner, she says she got on well with the other researchers who looked out for her, and they regularly met up outside of work.

The lab has the highest biosafety designation meaning air, water and waste has to be filtered and sterilised before it leaves the building. 

Anderson undertook 45 hours of training to be allowed to work independently at the lab, showing knowledge of containment procedures and understanding of the potential risks, even while wearing air-pressured suits.

Dr Shi gave a rare interview this month in which she backed her government, saying the accusations are 'filth' and claimed no one at the lab ever got sick

Dr Shi gave a rare interview this month in which she backed her government, saying the accusations are ‘filth’ and claimed no one at the lab ever got sick

Researchers had to take both a scheduled chemical and personal shower when entering and exiting the facility, while disinfectants were monitored daily, something Anderson said was even more stringent than other labs she had worked in.

But that has not stopped many doubting China’s claims that the virus naturally jumped to humans and was not the result of a leak.

The Chinese government refused to allow international scientists into Wuhan in the early days of the virus to probe the new disease and has also hidden data from WHO investigators.

Anderson admits the lab is so large she did not know what everyone was working on and said she knew researchers were testing viral components for their ability to infect human cells.

She says she is convinced no one intentionally wanted to infect people if it turned out the virus was the result of a leak.

But she conceded it was possible for a scientist working on a gain of function experiment to accidentally infect themselves and then unwittingly spread the virus.

When Anderson later worked in Singapore, her lab was one of the first to isolate SARS-CoV-2 from a Covid patient outside of China and then to grow the virus, a process she said was very complicated. 

She said that even though her team consisted of experts in the field who understood its characteristics, it was highly complex and anyone trying to create a new virus would not understand how it would target protein receptors.  

Anderson has been previously targeted by conspiracy theorists after exposing falsehoods being perpetuated about the pandemic and she has since shied away from the media after filing a police report against her harassers. 

Critics have lashed back against scientists who last year refused to entertain the idea which was dismissed as a conspiracy theory. 

The nomination comes despite growing speculation that the virus did not occur naturally but escaped from the lab (pictured)

The nomination comes despite growing speculation that the virus did not occur naturally but escaped from the lab (pictured)

US infectious diseases boss Dr Anthony Fauci has faced calls to resign over the scandal after he last year dismissed the lab leak theory as nonsense but appeared to be considering it behind closed doors, it has since been revealed.

And scientists who put their names to a letter denouncing the ‘lab leak’ theory last year have since changed their minds and said a full inquiry is required.

President Joe Biden has ordered a full investigation into the origin of the pandemic virus and demanded scientists work out whether there is truth to the theory.

China has rejected the allegations, despite the US pushing them to carry out further probes, citing findings by the World Health Organisation that said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ the virus emerged from the lab.

Dr Shi gave a rare interview this month in which she backed her government, saying the accusations are ‘filth’ and claimed no one at the lab ever got sick.

The accepted wisdom has been that the virus emerged in a bat and then spread to people in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan (pictured) in late 2019, but there is a growing counter-argument that the virus existed before this and could have been leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology nearby

The accepted wisdom has been that the virus emerged in a bat and then spread to people in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan (pictured) in late 2019, but there is a growing counter-argument that the virus existed before this and could have been leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology nearby

‘How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?’ She told The New York Times.

‘I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist,’ Dr Shi added.

She said the theories were completely unsubstantiated and said it was untrue that three of her colleagues had fallen ill with Covid before the outbreak emerged.

‘Bat woman’ has been accused of conducting controversial ‘gain of function’ experiments which genetically modify viruses in order to better understand the risks they pose.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology employs nearly 300 people and is the home to only two Chinese labs given the top bio-safety clearance, Level 4. It is the only lab in China permitted to handle deadly viruses such as ebola, bird flu and HIV. 

While China has tried to insist the virus originated elsewhere, academics, politicians and the media have begun to contemplate the possibility it escaped from the WIV - raising suspicions that Chinese officials simply hid evidence of the early spread

While China has tried to insist the virus originated elsewhere, academics, politicians and the media have begun to contemplate the possibility it escaped from the WIV – raising suspicions that Chinese officials simply hid evidence of the early spread

‘The Wuhan Institute of Virology has not come across such cases,’ she wrote. ‘If possible, can you provide the names of the three to help us check?’ 

But China has blocked an independent probe of the lab and hasn’t released any of the raw data from the facility, making it impossible to validate anything Dr Shi says.

And in recent days, one of the UK’s top virologists said she couldn’t rule out the possibility that the coronavirus had been leaked. 

But Professor Wendy Barclay, a member of the SAGE advisory group and infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, said she thought the accepted idea that the bug spread to humans in an animal market was ‘much more likely’. 

Her comments came after Boris Johnson said ‘anybody sensible’ would ‘keep an open mind’ about the origin of the coronavirus outbreak but the UK does not currently believe the so-called ‘lab leak’ theory.

Professor Wendy Barclay, a member of SAGE and infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, told MPs today that she 'could not exclude the possibility' of a lab leak but that a natural jump was more likely

Professor Wendy Barclay, a member of SAGE and infectious disease expert at Imperial College London, told MPs today that she ‘could not exclude the possibility’ of a lab leak but that a natural jump was more likely

Mr Johnson told a press conference at the end of the G7 summit in Cornwall: ‘At the moment, the advice that we have had is it doesn’t look as though this particular disease of zoonotic origin came from a lab.  

‘Clearly anybody sensible would want to keep an open mind about that.’

The head of the World Health Organization insisted just a day earlier that the theory that Covid emerged from a Wuhan lab has not been ruled out – as he said China should help solve the mystery out of ‘respect’ for the dead.

The body’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that Beijing had not cooperated fully as he urged more ‘transparency’ in the continuing investigation. 

The Trump administration attempted to raise the alarm with intelligence dumps about the lab which said researchers fell ill in the fall of 2019 with symptoms consistent with Covid-19. That was at least a month before Beijing officially reported the existence of a new respiratory illness to the world on December 31, 2019.

Among the dossiers were claims that the Bat Woman’s team were working with a bat coronavirus that is 96.2 percent similar genetically to the virus that causes Covid and that the lab had secret links to Chinese military.  

The first investigation in January by Western scientists, which was strictly supervised by Beijing from start to finish, resulted in a report that a Wuhan laboratory incident was 'highly unlikely' to have caused the pandemic. Pictured: Scientists at the WIV in 2017

The first investigation in January by Western scientists, which was strictly supervised by Beijing from start to finish, resulted in a report that a Wuhan laboratory incident was ‘highly unlikely’ to have caused the pandemic. Pictured: Scientists at the WIV in 2017

Earlier this month one of the original authors of a controversial letter in The Lancet medical journal at the start of the pandemic said he had changed his stance on whether the lab leak was possible.

Dr Peter Palese, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, signed the letter in the Lancet in February last year claiming the virus could only have been natural in origin and to suggest otherwise would create ‘fear, rumors, and prejudice’.

The ‘bullying’ letter, orchestrated by Dr Peter Daszak, the head of a non-profit that funnelled U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was criticized by experts for ostracizing anyone offering different opinions on the virus’ origins, dismissing them as conspiracy theorists.

It is only now, nearly 16 months after that letter was published in the world-renowned medical journal, that the theory Covid was accidentally leaked from a lab in Wuhan is being looked at seriously.

US President Joe Biden ordered intelligence agencies to launch a probe into whether Covid was man-made after all. But China immediately hit back and called the suggestion a ‘conspiracy’.

And now Professor Palese, 77, made a significant U-turn, admitting all theories on how Covid came about now need proper investigating.

He told MailOnline: ‘I believe a thorough investigation about the origin of the Covid-19 virus is needed.

‘A lot of disturbing information has surfaced since the Lancet letter I signed, so I want to see answers covering all questions.’

Asked how he was originally approached to sign the letter and what new information had come to light specifically, Professor Palese declined to comment.

Professor Palese spoke out as America’s leading pandemic expert Dr Fauci continued to face fevered calls to resign after emails revealed that leading virus experts warned Covid could be man-made even as he downplayed the possibility.

The emails also showed he communicated with Dr Daszak, the head of the non-profit that funnelled U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Wuhan lab.

Biden threw his support behind the embattled expert on Friday, saying: ‘Yes I’m very confident in Dr Fauci.’

Another scientist who signed the letter, Dr Jeremy Farrar – director of the Wellcome Trust in London – declined to comment on the Fauci allegations but said it remains ‘most likely’ the virus came from an animal but ‘there are other possibilities which cannot be completely ruled out and retaining an open mind is critical’.  



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