The Chinese lab eyed as a potential source of COVID-19 has admitted having three live strains of bat coronavirus on-site — but insisted none are the source of the global pandemic.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has since 2004 “isolated and obtained some coronaviruses from bats,” its director Wang Yanyi said in an interview that aired Saturday, according to Agence France-Presse.
Yanyi rejected the idea that the pandemic started in her lab — one pushed by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — as “pure fabrication.”
“Now we have three strains of live viruses… But their highest similarity to SARS-CoV-2 only reaches 79.8 percent,” Yanyi said, referring to the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19.
“It’s an obvious difference,” she said, according to AFP.
Her scientists had never “encountered, researched or kept the virus” until it received samples on December 30, when it had already unknowingly taken hold on Wuhan, the contagion’s epicenter, she said.
“In fact, like everyone else, we didn’t even know the virus existed,” she said of the new virus that as of Sunday had infected more than 5.3 million and killed more than 340,000 worldwide.
“How could it have leaked from our lab when we never had it?”
Chinese scientists have always said that the virus first emerged at a wet market selling live animals in Wuhan.
But US authorities raised suspicions over the lab at the heart of the epicenter — claims that the World Health Organization has insisted are purely “speculative” without evidence being offered.
Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi on Sunday claimed US politicians chose to “fabricate rumors” about the origins to “stigmatize China.”
He said China would be “open” to international cooperation to identify the source of the novel coronavirus, as long as any investigation is “free of political interference.”