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International

New viruses tip of iceberg: Wuhan virologist

May 27, 2020 06:10 AM

COURTESY HT MAY 27

New viruses tip of iceberg: Wuhan virologist
Sutirtho Patranobis

spatranobis@htlive.com

Beijing : New viruses being discovered are only the “tip of the iceberg”, said a leading virologist from a Chinese laboratory that’s at the centre of conspiracy theories on the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The unknown viruses that we have discovered are actually just the tip of the iceberg,” Shi Zhengli, deputy director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, told Chinese state TV, adding that it was important to carry out advance research on pathogens.

Shi is known as China’s “bat woman” as she has worked on coronaviruses found in the flying mammals for years, notably inside abandoned mines in the province of Yunnan.

Shi has kept a low profile since the Covid-19 outbreak emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, only occasionally commenting on social media, including once to deny that she had defected from China after the epidemic spread.

The People’s Daily reported that on February 2, Shi had reacted to a research article by Indian scientists implying the novel coronavirus possibly originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. “The 2019 novel coronavirus is a punishment by nature to humans’ unsanitary life styles. I promise with my life that the virus has nothing to do with the lab,” she said on the social media app WeChat.

In her short interview to state TV channel CGTN on Monday, Shi defended China’s transparency in handling the outbreak and stressed the need for more research on viruses. “If we want to protect humans from viruses or avoid a second outbreak of new infectious diseases, we must go in advance to learn of these unknown viruses carried by wild animals in nature and then give early warnings,” she said. “And we must be able to store some drugs and reagents for detection, prevention or treatment for future prevention and control.

Shi denied that her institute was the origin of the coronavirus. The institute, she said, shared available data with the world and that the WHO was well-informed about breakthroughs.

“Later, we, along with two other medical institutes in our country, submitted the whole genome sequence of the virus to the WHO on January 12, 2020,” she said. “We also uploaded other sequences to a gene library called GISAID, which is used by governments and scientists around the world to identify pathogens, to develop vaccines and screen drugs.

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