Evidence that includes newly unearthed Chinese government video continues to mount indicating the Wuhan Institute of Virology studied live bats in its lab, despite longtime lab collaborator Peter Daszak calling this a “conspiracy theory.”
Footage obtained and released by the Australian and Sky News was purportedly shot from inside the Wuhan lab and shows live bats kept in cages. The video was reportedly produced and released by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2017 to tout the opening and launch of the Wuhan lab’s then-new biosafety level four laboratory. The apparently Chinese state-produced video shows multiple bats in a cage, a researcher wearing a mask and gloves holding a bat and feeding it a worm, video of researchers in personal protective equipment out searching for and collecting bats, and a bat hanging off of a researcher’s hat as the person wears glasses and a surgical face mask.
The video was reportedly dug up by an online group that calls itself “DRASTIC” or the Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19.
In the video, Song Donglin, deputy director of the Wuhan BSL-4 lab, says, “China had no prior experience designing or contracting BSL-4 laboratories. There was no prior experience in using and managing autoclave sterilizers nor life-support systems for personnel.”
A voiceover states: “Over more than a decade, Shi Zhengli’s research team has collected more than 15,000 bat samples in China and many countries of Africa, searching for the origins of SARS, as well as isolating and characterizing many new viruses.”
The United States has cast doubt on a joint study conducted early this year. The World Health Organization-China report said a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” and that a jump from animals to animals to humans was most likely.
Shi was director of the lab’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and known as “bat woman” for her work with bat coronaviruses. The EcoHealth Alliance received at least $3.7 million from the National Institutes of Health between 2014 and 2020, and Daszak, who has worked with Shi, steered at least $600,000 in NIH funding to the lab, criticized the Biden administration for skepticism of WHO’s findings, and defended China on Communist Party-linked outlets.
In December, an article in the Independent reported that “samples from the bats were sent to the Wuhan laboratory for genetic analyses of the viruses collected in the field.”
Daszak called this false and a conspiracy theory, saying in a since-deleted December tweet, “Important error in this piece. No BATS were ‘sent to Wuhan lab for genetic analyses of viruses collected in the field.’ That's not how this science works. We collect bat samples, send them to the lab. We RELEASE bats where we catch them!”
Simon Boyi Chen, listed as being in the fellowship program in molecular genetic pathology at Stanford Health Care, tweeted in response: “There can be a very big risk for Western scientists to automatically assume that Chinese labs operate by the same practices and standard operating protocols that they do.”
Daszak then tweeted back, “This is a widely circulated conspiracy theory. This piece describes work I'm the lead on & labs I've collaborated with for 15 years. They DO NOT have live or dead bats in them. There is no evidence anywhere that this happened.”
Daszak seemed to concede months later that the Wuhan lab may have had live bats after all, admitting he hadn’t asked about it when the WHO-China team visited the laboratory.
Jason Tetro of the Super Awesome Science Show tweeted: “A new angle for the lab leakers has been the alleged presence of ‘bat rooms’ in the WIV BSL4 … Any chance you can simply point out that the animal husbandry BSL4 is in Harbin and not WIV?”
Daszak replied: “You're right, labs in US & around world are trying to keep bats to test viral immune responses etc. None are successfully doing this at scale like lab mice & animals are always screened virus-free before experiments, so even if WIV were trying this, it's prob irrelevant for origins … I also think it's in the WHO report (annexes) that they were working with animals in WIV at BSL-4, just like US labs.”
Tetro tweeted on June 1: “It's in the Annexes but perhaps not as explicit as some might like to see. … It's one of the way conspiracy theories work – they take what isn't said and turn it into an accusation of guilt.”
Daszak replied: “You're right, but also we didn't ask them if they had bats. I wouldn't be surprised if, like many other virology labs, they were trying to set up a bat colony.”
The WHO-China joint team’s numerous annexes totaled 193 pages, but the annex on its Feb. 3, 2021, visit to the Wuhan lab is just four pages and does not mention live bats being studied there.
A State Department fact sheet in January contended Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.” The fact sheet said the lab “engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military.” The annex made no use of the phrase “gain-of-function” and doesn't mention alleged Chinese military collaboration. The State Department fact sheet also said lab workers became sick with COVID-19-like symptoms in autumn 2019.
The WHO-China team contended that Shi “gave an extensive scientific report on her team’s work on bat coronaviruses.”
Shi also claimed in the annex that “all fieldwork is done with full PPE.” But Shi previously admitted her team did not always use full protective gear.
Peter Ben Embarek, head of the WHO’s international team, admitted in late February that “we didn’t do an audit of any of these labs, so we don’t really have hard facts or detailed data on the work done.”
Further evidence that the Wuhan lab was studying live bats was laid out by Taiwan News in February.
An archived website from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Laboratory Animal Resources stated: “The Wuhan Institute of Virology … has 126 cages for Japanese white rabbits, 340 cages for SD and Wistar rats, inbred strains, closed groups, mutant strains, and genetically engineered mice. There are 3268 cages, 12 ferrets, 12 bats, and 2 species of cotton bollworm and beet armyworm, totaling 52 strains.”
An article in Sixth Tone from May 2018 on China's bat caves included a passage about Wuhan lab researcher Luo Dongsheng, saying: “Their one-day expedition to Taiyi Cave — a cavern 2,200 meters deep, located 100 kilometers south of Hubei’s provincial capital, Wuhan — is less about the bats themselves than the viruses they carry … By 8:30 p.m., Luo’s team has collected a full rack of swabs and bagged a dozen live bats for further testing back at the lab.”
An article in China’s Science Times quoted Wuhan lab researcher Zhang Huajun as saying, “The research team captured a few bats from the wild to be used as experimental animals. They need to be fed every day. This Spring Festival, the students went home for a holiday, and Teacher Shi silently undertook the task of raising bats.”
And a patent apparently filed by the Wuhan lab in 2018 and granted in 2019 was for “a kind of carnivorism bat rearging [sic] cage” with an abstract describing it, “The utility model discloses a kind of carnivorism bat rearging [sic] cages … The utility model makes bat being capable of healthy growth and breeding under artificial condition.”
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