THE ONLY foreign scientist to have worked at the Wuhan lab at the centre of the Covid leak storm has broken her silence.
Danielle Anderson, an expert on bat-borne coronviruses, was working at the notorious Wuhan Institute of Virology just weeks before the first known cases of the killer virus emerged in China.
Australian scientist Anderson had a front row seat in the weeks just before the pandemic, with her stint at WIV officially ending in November 2019 – with China admitting to the new virus around a month later on New Year's Eve.
The high security facility has become the eye of a storm as many suspect the virus could have somehow leaked from its labs and gone on to kill almost 4million people worldwide.
However, while she concedes it is possible the virus could have escaped from the lab – she believes it is highly unlikely, backed the natural origin theory, and says a full investigation is needed into Covid's origin.
Anderson told Bloomberg she "could foresee how things could maybe happen" – and added: "I’m not naive enough to say I absolutely write this off."
She is however convinced that no virus was intentionally made to infect people and be released – a more elaborate version of the lab leak theory that has been peddled by some.
The more common version of the theory is that of an accident – such as a scientist may have been infected inside the lab, or waste could have been improperly disposed of and allowed the virus to escape.
Anderson reportedly rated the likelihood of a researcher being infected as "extremely slim" – but she did concede she could not rule it out and confesses she doesn't know what everyone in the lab was working on at the time.
And the scientist hit back at the "toxic attacks on scientists" amid the allegations of the leak, and said she was "dumbfounded" by the portrayal of the lab.
She has even been subjected to threats of violence from US-based trolls – and had to file a police report.
The lab leak theory has stepped from being dismissed by some as a conspiracy theory to being taken seriously by the world's intelligence agencies and many in the scientific community.
Circumstantial evidence is mounting which appears to tie the virus to the lab, but so far no "smoking gun" evidence has been found – and the more orthodox opinion remains that the virus originated in nature.
China's apparent cover up however and allegations that it withheld key information early in the pandemic has only thrown petrol on the fire – but Beijing continues to deny all wrongdoing over Covid.
Anderson worked out of WIV's biosecurity level 4 lab – the first in China equipped to handle the world's most deadly pathogens – and also worked alongside Dr Shi Zhengli, a Chinese scientist known as "Batwoman".
Dr Shi has faced many questions over the lab's role in the pandemic, but furiously denies allegations – dismissing them as smears.
The lab is alleged to have been carrying out potentially dangerous gain-of-function research to make viruses more infectious.
"It’s exceedingly difficult to actually make it work when you want it to work," Anderson said.
And there have been wider allegations of ties to the Chinese military, along with claims that WIV – along with other labs in Wuhan – were in a shoddy condition and ripe for a leak.
Anderson however reportedly describes the accounts of the lab as "half truths and distorted information" and claims the work in the lab was "routine".
She said: "It’s not that it was boring, but it was a regular lab that worked in the same way as any other high-containment lab. What people are saying is just not how it is."
Anderson began working with the Wuhan lab in 2016 while working in Singapore, and her research has focused on why potentially lethal viruses – like Nipah or Ebola – do not cause disease in their bat hosts.
While working with WIV, she was focused on Ebola and describes a friendly relationship with the other researchers – even though she stood out as the only foreigner.
She described being "impressed" by the lab's containment facility – and said she had to undergo 45 hours of training before she could work independently inside the lab.
All scientists inside have to take a chemical shower and wear air-pressured suits while in the highest security part of the facility, procedures Anderson said where "very, very extensive".
And she also rebuffed reports from US intelligence that researchers at the lab fell sick with Covid-like symptoms towards the end of 2019.
She said: "If people were sick, I assume that I would have been sick—and I wasn’t."
What do we know about the Wuhan Institute of Virology?
THE WUHAN Institute of Virology is the highest security lab of its kind in all of China – and can be found right at the heart of the origins of the global pandemic.
Various theories have been swirling about the lab, which is headed up by Chinese scientist Dr Shi Zhengli, known as “Bat Woman”.
Most scientists do not believe the virus leaked from the lab, and the lab itself has categorically denied the claims.
The lab specialised in bat-borne viruses and had been carrying out experiences on them since 2015.
Airlocks, full body suits, and chemical showers are required before entering and leaving the lab – the first in China to be accredited with biosafety level 4 (BSL-4).
BSL-4 labs are the only places in the world where scientists can study diseases that have no cure.
Scientists from the lab even tested mysterious
virus which killed three miners 1,000 miles away in Yunnan province back in 2012.
It has been suggested this fatal mystery bug may have been the true origin of Covid-19.
Experts at the lab also engineered a new type of hybrid 'super-virus' that can infect humans in 2015, according to medical journal Nature Medicine
Despite fears surrounding the research, the study was designed to show the risk of viruses carried by bats which could be transmitted to humans.
There is no suggestion the facility's 2015 work is linked to the pandemic.
The lab was also recruiting new scientists to probe coronaviruses in bats just seven days before the outbreak.
China has began tightening security around its biolabs with President Xi Jinping saying it was a “national security” issue to improve scientific safety at a meeting last February.
China has long been accused of covering up or distorting its role in the early days of the pandemic, with claims the Communist Party manipulated case and death figures while withholding information from WHO.
WHO's first investigation into the origin of Covid was much derided – and Dr Peter Daszak, a scientist with links to WIV, who was part of the probe has now been booted off a UN team looking into the virus.
Beijing has a history of lab leaks in which deadly viruses have accidentally escaped and critics have highlighted what they allege is a gung-ho approach to safety.
China has accused the US of playing politics by stoking fears over a lab leak, and have even attempted to shift the focus to bio labs in the US.
It emerged last month Wuhan lab staff became sick and needed hospital care weeks before China admitted it was facing an outbreak, according to US intelligence.
There is currently no evidence to suggest the virus was intentionally released by China.
And experts have claimed that the truth about Covid could bring "national shame" to China and topple the Communist Party.
Meanwhile, rumours run wild that a top Chinese spymaster may have defected to the US with secrets about the Wuhan lab.
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