Two Chinese scientists who worked for the Wuhan Institute of Virology studied bats in a CSIRO facility as part of researched funded by both the Australian and Chinese governments.
Intelligence agencies from the ‘Five Eyes’ network comprising of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the US are examining the work of two staffers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, according to the Daily Telegraph.
However, when questioned about the allegations by ABC Radio National, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham denied knowing of any such investigation.
‘I don’t and the government does not comment on national security or intelligence matters, that is a long standing practice. I am not aware of any investigation and I wouldn’t comment on them even if I were,’ Senator Birmingham said.
‘However, we want to see transparent investigations into the causes so that we can prevent repeats of such pandemics into the future.’
The alleged probe comes as President Donald Trump said the US is looking into whether the virus accidentally leaked from the lab, which was researching coronaviruses including the SARS virus, a close genetic relative of the current virus.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had demanded access to the facility but the lab director said ‘there’s no way this virus came from us’ and Beijing rejected the request.
Shi Zhengli (pictured in 2017) – who is known as ‘bat woman’ by her colleagues – studied bat faeces to identify the mammals as a natural host for viruses similar to SARS
Shi Zhengli (left) Zhou Peng (right) jointly wrote a paper in January that said the new coronavirus probably originated from bats, just like SARS
An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan
One of the scientists whose work is reportedly being examined by western spies spent three years at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory between 2011 and 2014.
Zhou Peng, head of Wuhan’s Bat Virus Infection and Immunity Project, was part of a study which involved transporting bats from Queensland to the lab in Geelong, Victoria where they were killed, dissected and studied for viruses.
The project, funded jointly by the Australia and Chinese governments, found ‘bats are rich reservoirs for emerging viruses’.
The other scientist whose work is being examined also worked at Australia’s Animal Health Laboratory for three months in 2006.
Shi Zhengli – who is known as ‘bat woman’ by her colleagues because of her expeditions into bat caves to analyse the animals – studied bat faeces to identify the mammals as a natural host for viruses similar to SARS.
The two scientists jointly wrote a paper in January that said the new coronavirus probably originated from bats, just like SARS.
Zhengli told the Scientific American that when she was first told of a pneumonia outbreak she feared the lab may be responsible for leaking coronaviruses.
Vendors wearing face masks as they offer prawns for sale at a market in Wuhan where reports of the virus first emerged in December
She told the journal that she wondered: ‘Could they have come from our lab?’
Later, test results showed genome sequences taken from infected patients did not match any her team were working on in the lab, meaning the new coronavirus did not come from an accidental leak.
She said: ‘That really took a load off my mind. I had not slept a wink for days.’
A spokesman for CSIRO confirmed bat research took place with international partners in Geelong.
The spokesman said: ‘CSIRO undertakes all research in accordance with strict biosecurity and legislative requirements.
‘CSIRO’s collaborations with research organisations from many countries around the world are helping drive global effort forwards to human diseases prevention and management.
‘As with all partners, CSIRO undertakes due diligence and takes security very seriously.’
This photo taken on April 15, 2020 shows a worker wearing a face mask as he throws ice into a pool with fish at a shop at a market in Wuhan where the first reports of the virus emerged in December
It comes after the Australian government joined the US in calling for an international inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly called for a coronavirus investigation and has demanded changes in the ‘upper echelons’ of the World Health Organisation after it praised China’s handling of the outbreak.
He was also the fist world leader to call for a ban on China’s wet markets where the virus is suspected of jumping from animals to humans in November, calling their re-opening ‘unfathomable’.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was ‘seriously concerned and firmly opposed’ to an inquiry and slammed foreign minister Marise Payne after she suggested China withheld information regarding the spread of the virus.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also faced the wrath of Beijing when he said China needs to ‘answer questions’ on the virus origins after unsubstantiated reports from the US that it was grown in a lab in Wuhan and accidentally escaped.
The Chinese Embassy hit back, calling Mr Dutton ‘pitiful,’ ‘ignorant’ and a parrot of America.
This photo taken on April 15 shows a woman wearing a face mask as she offers prawns for sale at the Wuhan Baishazhou Market where the first reports of the virus emerged in December
WHO insists ‘all available evidence’ suggests coronavirus came from an animal and was not created in a lab
By Chris Pleasance for MailOnline
The World Health Organisation has insisted that all available evidence suggests coronavirus was not manufactured in a lab.
Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said that while it has not been possible to identify the exact source, the disease likely came from animals.
The WHO has previously said that the genetic makeup of the virus is closely related to coronaviruses identified in bats – suggesting the disease originated in that animal before making the leap into humans.
The WHO has previously said the new coronavirus is similar to viruses already identified in a common species of bat (pictured), making them a likely source
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called for ‘more transparency’ from China over the origin of the virus.
Meanwhile Veronika Skvortsova, Russia’s former health minister, refused to rule out the possibility that the virus came from a lab and called for a ‘very through study’.
WHO West Asia director Takeshi Kasai spoke out as world leaders called for an investigation into the virus’s origins
It is thought that the new coronavirus first made the jump from animals to humans at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, which is where the earliest cluster of cases was detected.
However, China has so far failed to identify ‘patient zero’ – the first person to catch the infection.
Without knowing who patient zero is or how they were infected, it will be impossible to know the true source of the virus.
The WHO itself admits that the virus could have been carried to the Huanan Market by an already-infected human, who then spread it to others.
Investigations are currently ongoing into possible cases of coronavirus dating back to mid-November 2019, a month earlier than previously thought.
It came as rare footage emerged showing carrying out research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology – which has found itself at the centre of conspiracy theories around the virus’s origin.
A video released by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV in February shows virologists donning spacesuit-like protective gears as they work in the P4 lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology
A video released by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV in February provides a glimpse into the institute.
The £34million lab is affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It was completed in 2015 and officially opened in 2018.
In the clip, one researcher, named Zhang Huajun, demonstrates how he and one colleague put on two layers of protective suits and pass five air-tight chambers before entering the core part of the lab.
The lab is said to have three testing rooms, two animal storage rooms, one virus bank and one animal-dissection room. Twenty-four scientists can work there at the same time.
Researcher Zhang said the building was designed in such a way that air can only flow into the lab from the outside, not the other way around, to prevent leaks.
Dr Yuan Zhiming, the deputy head of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, hit back at accusations that the virus leaked from his lab in an interview with state media over the weekend.
‘There’s no way this virus came from us,’ Dr Yuan told CGTN, the English-language arm of CCTV. ‘I know it’s impossible.’
The lab is said to have three testing rooms, two animal storage rooms, one virus bank and one animal-dissection room. Twenty-four scientists can work there at the same time, CCTV said