Covid-19. What do we know about the Wuhan Laboratory, at the heart of the “leak theory”, visited by the WHO?

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived on Wednesday morning at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, as part of their investigation into the origin of the coronavirus.

This institute, which has several high-security laboratories where researchers work with coronavirus, was accused by former US President Donald Trump of leaking the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic.

The accusation has been vehemently denied by Beijing, which is seeking to evacuate any responsibility for the 2019 epidemic, and suggests, without demonstrating it, that the virus could have been imported into China.

According to the majority of researchers, Sars-CoV-2 was probably born in bats. However, it would have passed through another species, still undefined, before being transmitted to humans.

What exactly do we know about this laboratory? This government institute has the largest collection of virus strains in Asia, with 1,500 different specimens, according to the website. Since 2012, it has had a high-security P3 laboratory (for “class 3 pathogen”) that studies many viruses – especially coronavirus.

The Institute of Virology also has a P4 (for even more dangerous pathogens). A laboratory with even greater security, which can house strains such as Ebola. Formally opened in 2018 and visited the year before by the former French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, this P4 was created in collaboration with France.

What are researchers doing? They study different types of pathogens. Ambition: to be able to react quickly to the appearance of infectious diseases. The researchers have in particular been the authors of a number of studies on the links between bats and the emergence of these diseases in China. They also helped to better understand the new coronavirus after it appeared in Wuhan. In February 2020, their work was published in a scientific journal. Conclusion: The sequence of the Sars-CoV-2 genome is 96% similar to that of a coronavirus bat.

Is a leak possible? No evidence has so far supported this hypothesis. According to the Washington Post, every day after the visit to the institute, the US Embassy in Beijing notified the US authorities in 2018 of security measures that they considered insufficient. The director of the Institute of Virology and the Chinese government have categorically denied that these laboratories are the source of the new coronavirus.

What do we know about the origin of the virus? Not much at the moment. A Wuhan market, also visited by WHO investigators, was blamed at the start of the epidemic because it specifically sold live wild animals – potential carriers of coronavirus transmitted by bats. But Sars-CoV-2 may have come from elsewhere. “All the preconditions are on the table. It is clearly too early to come to a conclusion about where this virus originated, whether it was in China or outside China,” the director-general said last week in Geneva. Ryan.