2nd LD-Writethru: Wuhan lab leak claim goes against science: official

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BEIJING, July 22 (Xinhua) -- The claim that the SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a Wuhan lab goes against science, a senior official of the National Health Commission (NHC) said Thursday.

Zeng Yixin, vice director of the NHC, said he was surprised to hear that some people have claimed the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

The claim is disrespectful to common sense, and goes against science, Zeng told a press conference on the coronavirus origin-tracing work, which is held by China's State Council Information Office.

Yuan Zhiming, director of the National Biosafety Laboratory at the WIV, said that his lab, which studies class four pathogens and boasts the highest biosafety rating, has not had any incidents of leakage since it was put into operation in 2018.

Zeng added that some claims, such as so-called infection of three WIV staff, or the gain-of-function experiment on the novel coronavirus by the lab, are just rumors that have already been quashed.

He said among the viruses found by the WIV in bat samples, the RaTG13 is most closely-related to the SARS-CoV-2. But it is only 96.2 percent identical in genome sequences to the pathogen.

He noted that it is widely accepted by genetic engineers that the artificial modification of a virus will definitely leave traces. Novel coronavirus has no such trace, which totally rules out the theory that it was man-made.

Up to now, none of the WIV staff members have been infected by the novel coronavirus, the lab has not carried out the gain-of-function experiment on the pathogen, and there is no so-called artificial novel coronavirus in the WIV, he reiterated.

World Health Organization (WHO) experts said after visiting the WIV that it was "extremely unlikely" that the virus spread from a lab leak, Zeng added.

Yuan said, in 2012, a research team of WIV received 13 serum samples of four miners working in Mojiang County, southwest China's Yunnan Province, who had developed a pneumonia-like illness.

After repeated nucleic acid tests, antibody and genome sequencing, the team had not found any bat coronavirus in the miners' samples. The result indicates that the miners' cases have nothing to do with the novel coronavirus, he added.

He also said the RaTG13 is a virus sequence detected by a WIV team in the biological samples collected in Mojiang County in 2013, not from those miners' serum samples, and there is no evidence that RaTG13 and similar bat coronaviruses are linked to the disease Mojiang miners suffered from in 2012.

Yuan mentioned that an interview of professor Shi Zhengli, a researcher at the WIV, published in Science Magazine in 2020, said that it could take from 20 to 50 years to make up the evolutionary divergence between SARS-CoV-2 and RaTG13. Enditem

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