July 25, 2021

in Wuhan, in laboratories and in markets, unexpected animals

Does the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), capital of Hubei province, maintain within its walls a pet store with live bats? The Chinese authorities have so far been silent on the subject.

Australian television channel Sky News provided new answers on Sunday (June 13) by broadcasting brief images showing captive bats in the institution’s laboratories, as well as a researcher busy feeding one of the bats. ‘they. A study published by the journal Scientific Reports has also brought these days, but more discreetly, new information on the animal species present, not in the virology laboratories of Wuhan, but on the markets of the city, one of which was (and sometimes still is) suspected to be the starting point of the pandemic.

Read also Origin of SARS-CoV-2: a year and a half later, more questions than answers

The authenticity of the images disclosed by Sky News can hardly be disputed by the Chinese authorities or researchers: they come from a promotional video of about ten minutes, produced by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and presenting the activities of the WIV. The video was unearthed on an official server by the members of a group of researchers and anonymous – baptized Drastic -, at the origin of several revelations on the work of the WIV, and the disclosure of unpublished academic memories carried out under the aegis of the institution.

The Chinese authorities, no more than the executives of the WIV, have never denied the presence of live bats on the premises of their institute. Without, either, admitting it formally. The question is thus delicate enough to appear nowhere in the report of the joint mission between the World Health Organization (WHO) and China, delivered at the end of March.

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Sky News, however, questions the statements of a British scientist based in New York, Peter Daszak, president of the NGO EcoHealth Alliance and co-author of numerous studies with virologists in Wuhan. “Important error in this paper, he said in December 2020 on Twitter, in response to a press article. No bats were sent to the Wuhan laboratory for genetic analyzes of viruses collected in the field. This is not how this science works (…). »

A researcher familiar with the work of the NGO, for his part, noted a misunderstanding: Mr. Daszak’s statement referred, he said, to work in which he was directly associated or that he directed, and not to the practices of WIV researchers in general. Also, he adds, the bat species shown in the video are not reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. The document, dated 2017, does not, however, confirm or deny the presence of other species of bats in the pet store.

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