A study published by scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in July, and reportedly circulating widely on Chinese social media this week, concluded that as many as 20 species of coronavirus are “highly likely” to cause an outbreak among humans.
The study appeared in Emerging Microbes & Infections in July, the South China Morning Post noted on Sunday, but it began making headlines in Chinese-language media as social media users discovered it and began spreading its conclusions online.
The Wuhan scientists documented their study of 40 coronavirus species and identified 20 as “high risk … including 6 of which jumped to human, 3 with evidence of spillover but not to human and 11 without evidence of spillover yet.”
“It is almost certain that there will be future disease emergence and it is highly likely a CoV [coronavirus] disease again,” the study declared. “Thus, the early preparation for the animal CoVs with risk of spillover is important for future disease preparedness, regarding the likely animal origin of SARS, MERS and COVID-19.”
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a coronavirus-caused disease that caused a deadly outbreak originating in China in 2002. MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is a coronavirus disease first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. “COVID-19” is the scientific name for the disease caused by the Wuhan coronavirus.
Among the study’s authors appeared Shi Zhengli, a coronavirus expert known in Chinese media as “batwoman” for her academic focus on studying bat coronaviruses.
Shi, the director of infectious disease research at the WIV, became a figure of international focus following the emergence of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, where her research facility is located, in late 2019. Shi initially disappeared from the public eye in early 2020 but then reemerged to defend the Chinese government and the WIV from “filth” suggesting that a laboratory accident resulted in the release of the novel coronavirus and subsequent, ongoing pandemic. Shi was nominated in September for a position in the prestigious Chinese Academy of Scientists (CAS), the world’s largest research organization.
The sudden surge of interest in the article, the Hong Kong newspaper posited, was the result in part of the Communist Party of China’s abrupt disinterest in the pandemic, which began after it suddenly ended most civil rights abuses against civilians in the name of containing the virus, including starving city populations with massive lockdowns and imprisoning suspected coronavirus patients in dirty quarantine camps. The policy behind these abuses, “zero-Covid,” prompted nationwide protests on a regular basis, which erupted in a nationwide display of resistance against the regime in late November 2022, shortly before the policy was “optimized.”
The Chinese government is “downplaying” ongoing Wuhan coronavirus infections, an anonymous Chinese Centres for Disease Control and Prevention scientist told the South China Morning Post, fueling interest in studies predicting another significant outbreak of coronavirus infections.
“Sometimes in private conversations, when talking with other public health scholars, we have noticed that intentionally or unintentionally, Chinese authorities are downplaying Covid-19, and some cities have stopped releasing infection data,” the scientist said. He described the study published in July as important because it works as a “textbook” of dozens of coronavirus species that can now be easily referenced in further research.
The renewed chatter about the WIV on China’s heavily regulated social media sites is occurring as the Communist Party launches a new initiative to pressure the public into ingesting Chinese-made coronavirus and influenza vaccine products. The Chinese government expects a surge in domestic travel in early October as the country observes the anniversary of the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of China with a holiday week.
The WIV is one of the world’s most controversial scientific organizations given its proximity to the origin location of the Wuhan coronavirus. It has faced years of speculation of involvement in the initial spread, or perhaps creation, of the novel coronavirus that caused the pandemic and nearly seven million deaths, according to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.). In 2021, the U.S. State Department published a fact sheet revealing that American intelligence “has reason to believe” that several scientists in the institution fell ill in fall 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
“This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses,” the State Department contended.
In May of this year, the office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) published a nearly 300-page report concluding that “serious biocontainment failure or accident” at the WIV was possibly the origin of the pandemic, citing extensive evidence compiled by the office.
The House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic concluded in its own research published in July that there was “a coordinated effort between public health officials in the United States government and expert scientists to craft a narrative that would advance the zoonotic origin of COVID-19 in order to protect the Chinese government from any potential criticism and repercussions.”
The Chinese government blamed a local “wet market” selling unsanitary and illegal meat for the initial outbreak of the virus.
“The origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market,” Gao Fu (or George Gao), the then-director of the Chinese CDC, said in January 2020.
The Chinese government ultimately discarded this theory and accused the United States of being the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, despite no evidence existing of any human Wuhan coronavirus infections in the Western Hemisphere — or outside of China — prior to the first cases of infection documented in the origin city of Wuhan. The Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed that the virus originated in a U.S. Army facility in Maryland and the American government covered it up by misdiagnosing patients as having e-cigarette or vaping injuries. Beijing has never explained how such a cover-up is possible given that injuries, unlike the Wuhan coronavirus, are not infectious and no evidence exists of health workers or others becoming infected by vaping injuries during the treatment of patients.
Following his unceremonious “retirement” in 2022 after questioning the quality of Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines, George Gao suggested that a laboratory leak could have possibly caused the pandemic.
“You can always suspect anything. That’s science. Don’t rule out anything,” Gao told the BBC’s Fever: The Hunt for Covid’s Origins podcast in response to the Wuhan lab leak theory in May. “We really don’t know where the virus came from … the question is still open.”