Wuhan’s own ‘batwoman has warned another outbreak driven by a different coronavirus is ‘almost certain’.
Dr Shi Zheng-Li, a virologist at the infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China, and other scientists warned in a recent paper that the world must be prepared for another outbreak.
They said because coronaviruses — like Covid-19 — had ’caused diseases to emerge before, there is a high chance it will cause future outbreaks’.
Dr Zheng-Li earned her moniker because of her position as one of the foremost experts on coronaviruses in bats, with her work often taking her to caves to find the most dangerous virus strains before taking them back to Wuhan for study.
Her work is feared to be linked to the Covid pandemic amid concerns the virus escaped from her lab, known as the ‘lab leak’ hypothesis. Chinese officials dispute this, saying the virus emerged naturally after jumping from animals to humans.
Shi Zhengli – dubbed the ‘Bat Lady’ of ‘Bat Woman’ for her work on bat coronaviruses – investigated the possibility Covid could have emerged from her lab back in 2020 according to colleagues. Here she is pictured working with other researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2017
The above graphic shows the 40 coronavirus species included in the study. As many as 27 of them — 68 percent — were in bats, the researchers said
The paper was done by a team at the WIV. Dr Zheng-Li is listed as one of the main authors.
Writing in the study published in July, the scientists wrote: ‘It is almost certain that there will be future disease emergence and it is highly likely a CoV [coronavirus] disease again.
‘It is undeniable that if a CoV species caused disease emergence before, there is a high chance for it to cause outbreak in future.’
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that live in a variety of animals including bats, pigs and pangolins.
They can also spread to humans leading to outbreaks including the 2003 SARS outbreak, which killed thousands of people, and the 2019 Covid pandemic, behind more than a million deaths in the US alone.
Scientists fear that another coronavirus could jump to humans in the future, running the risk of another major outbreak.
The WIV-led study reviewed literature on 40 known coronavirus species as well as conducting lab-based tests on a number of them.
The paper was submitted for publication in March this year, but was not released until July.
In part of the study, they manufactured the proteins from the wall of the nucleus of 16 coronaviruses — the nucleus being the center of the cell that contains genetic information — for testing.
Twenty-seven of the coronaviruses studied — or 68 percent — were from bats, while another four were in rats, two each in pigs and mice and one each in mink and porcupines.
There were also six coronaviruses included that were already in humans, including the SARS and MERS viruses.
Overall, the review labeled 20 of the viruses as posing a ‘high risk’ of spilling over to humans, potentially causing another outbreak.
It also said coronaviruses already in humans posed a risk as a ‘causative agent’ of a future outbreak, likely because these could swap genes with the invading coronaviruses making them better able to infect humans.
They also raised concerns over coronaviruses that were infecting animals other than their hosts, saying this raised the risks of them jumping to humans.
The study was published in the journal Emerging Microbes and Infections in July and led by Dr Xiao-Shuang Zheng from the WIV.
It credits Dr Peter Burbelo, a virologist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for helping with the work.
The study says it was funded by grants from the Chinese Government.
Many have raised concerns that Covid escaped from the WIV in what has been dubbed the ‘lab leak’ theory.
Once dismissed as a conspiracy, it is now regarded as the most likely scenario by the FBI and other Government agencies.
Some experts now say Covid may have emerged from within the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Here security personnel are pictured keeping watch during a visit by the WHO in 2021
Other Covid origin theories point to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan as being the epicenter of the outbreak. Many of the earliest cases in December 2019 and January 2020 had visited the site, where live animals were sold
But the Chinese communist party has always dismissed the theory, insisting Covid was a ‘natural’ event caused by the virus jumping to humans at a location like the Wuhan wet market.
It has repeatedly denied the ‘lab leak’ hypothesis and labeled it as a smear campaign by ‘anti-China’ forces.
No concrete proof to support either argument has ever been found, leaving experts fearing the truth behind Covid’s origins will never be uncovered.
This is particularly concerning because they wish to discover how the pandemic came about in order to stop another happening again.
It comes after it was revealed in June that even Dr Zheng-Li feared Covid had escaped from her own lab.
Professor Wang Linfa, described as a friend of hers by the BBC, said the respected scientist spent ‘sleepless nights’ combing through frozen virus samples at the WIV fearing ‘what might happen’ if she found an exact match for Covid in her lab.