China's missing virologist, with secrets of COVID-19 origin, denies defecting to West

Shi Zhengli refuted rumours of her defection on her Chinese social media WeChat account, the state-run media here reported on Saturday.

Published: 02nd May 2020 08:15 PM  |   Last Updated: 02nd May 2020 08:15 PM   |  A+A-

Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, China

Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, China. (File photo| AFP)


BEIJING: A leading Chinese virologist from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), whose mysterious disappearance sparked speculation about the deadly novel coronavirus emanating from the laboratory, has denied reports of her defection to West with the secrets about the COVID-19.

Shi Zhengli, known as the "Bat Woman" for her passionate research about bats and the viruses associated with them, refuted rumours of her defection on her Chinese social media WeChat account, the state-run media here reported on Saturday.

Denying "rumours" of "defecting to the West", Shi on her WeChat account wrote, "Everything is alright for my family and me, dear friends!" She also posted nine photos of her recent life, the Global Times reported.

In the post, Shi, reported to be the Director of the WIV, said, "No matter how difficult, it (defecting) shall never happen. We've done nothing wrong. With strong belief in science, we will see the day when the clouds disperse and the sun shines."

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"Shi has been troubled by rumours for quite a long time. The recent rumour which has been circulating on overseas social media platforms said that 'Shi Zhengli director at #Wuhan Institute of Virology has defected with a treasure trove of intelligence to the US embassy in Paris," the report said but gave no details of her whereabouts.

Her social media postings reported by the official media here comes in the immediate backdrop of increasing focus on the WIV with allegations by US President Donald Trump as well as suspicions raised by several other world leaders that the COVID-19, which has caused massive death and devastation globally, may have originated from the lab.

There were also questions about her absence since December last year when the virus began spreading in Wuhan and then the rest of China and the world. While some reports said, she was muzzled by the Chinese government after she unlocked the genome sequence of the coronavirus on January 2, others said she may have been defected to the West.

The Global Times report said it is not the first time that Shi responded to the rumours on her WeChat account. On February 2, she said on her WeChat Moment that, "the 2019 novel coronavirus is a punishment by nature to humans' unsanitary lifestyles.

I promise with my life that the virus has nothing to do with the lab," in a response to an article by Indian scientists implying the novel coronavirus possibly originated from the WIV, the report said.

China is resisting mounting pressure from the US and the leaders of many countries for an inquiry into the origin of the virus, which was initially stated to have emerged from a wet market in Wuhan selling live animals located close to WIV.

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On April 29, state television CGTN reported that US scientists are working with their Chinese counterparts to investigate the origin of the coronavirus, a prime demand of Trump and several other countries.

The report said China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is facilitating the cooperation between Dr EN Lipkin, Director for Centre for Infection and Immunity of Columbia University, and Prof Lu Jinhai of Sun-Yat-Sen University of Guangzhou to conduct the probe.

The two are working together to determine whether the virus emerged elsewhere in China before Wuhan in December last year, the report said. But since then there is no official announcement on the probe.

Brushing aside calls for an inquiry, China on Monday said such a probe has no precedence or legal basis besides investigations into such pandemics in the past had not provided any conclusive results.

Besides Trump, who stepped up demand for an investigation into the origin of the virus and whether it escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology, Britain, Australia and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for more transparency from Beijing on COVID-19 origins.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Monday played down the calls for the probe, saying the investigations in the past on such viruses achieved little. "The origin of the virus is a matter of science and should be studied by scientists and professionals. Such research and conclusive answers can only be drawn after getting mutually reinforcing evidence on epidemiological study and virology studies. It is a very complicated issue often it takes a lot of time and there is a degree of uncertainty," he said.

He said that "politicising" the issue of the origin of the virus goes against the spirit of science. "It disrupts international cooperation and mutual trust and will not help with global cooperation to fight the virus," Geng said.

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