Wuhan Lab's Director Denies Rumors That Coronavirus Originated There: 'We Didn't Even Know The Virus Existed'

The director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology has blasted claims pushed by the Trump Administration that the coronavirus pandemic originated at the laboratory.

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have repeatedly said they suspect the virus that was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in Hubei province, was somehow released from the laboratory.

Wang Yanyi, an immunologist and director of the institute, mainland China's first biosafety level 4 laboratory, was quoted in Chinese state media on Saturday as saying such claims are "pure fabrication."

She said the institute, located in the Chinese city where the virus is said to have originated, had received a clinical sample containing the novel coronavirus now know as SARS-CoV-2 on December 30 last year.

Wang said the institute did not have "any knowledge before that nor had we ever met, researched or kept the virus." She added: "In fact, like everyone else, we didn't even know the virus existed, so how could it be leaked from our lab when we never have it?"

Wuhan lab
An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Most scientists say the novel coronavirus passed from bats to humans through an intermediary species that was likely sold at a wet market in Wuhan late last year.

And the scientific community has mostly rejected the idea that the virus could have been engineered in a lab.

In a letter to Nature Medicine titled "The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2," a team in California led by microbiology professor Kristian Andersen said it was "improbable" that the novel coronavirus emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related coronavirus. It added that "the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone."

The scientists suggested it was far more likely that the virus emerged naturally and then became stronger through natural selection.

"We propose two scenarios that can plausibly explain the origin of Sars-CoV-2: natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic [animal to human] transfer; and natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer," they said.

In March, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency updated its assessment of the origin of the novel coronavirus to reflect that it may have been accidentally released from an infectious diseases lab. In a classified report, the agency ruled out that the disease was genetically engineered or released intentionally as a biological weapon.

But The Washington Post recently reported that although scientists at the Wuhan laboratory researched viruses originating in bats, there is no evidence that a wild sample was accidentally leaked.

Maureen Miller, an infectious disease epidemiologist who worked with virologist Shi Zhengli, the leader of the Wuhan lab, as part of a U.S.-funded viral research program, dismissed the idea of a lab leak as an "absolute conspiracy theory."

"[Shi] is very, very committed to preventing the kind of scenario that is happening right now," Miller told the newspaper.

The novel coronavirus has infected 5.3 million people worldwide and killed more than 342,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.