The possibility that the SarsCov2 virus leaked from a laboratory cannot be ruled out, a former top Chinese government scientist has told BBC News. As head of China’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), Professor George Gao played a key role in the response to the pandemic and in efforts to trace its origins.
A scientist contradicts the Chinese government
The Chinese government rejects any suggestion that the disease may have originated in a laboratory in Wuhan. But Professor Gao is less direct.
In an interview with a BBC podcast, Professor Gao says: “You can always suspect anything. This is science. Don’t rule anything out.”
A world-renowned virologist and immunologist, Professor Gao is currently Vice President of the National Natural Science Foundation of China after retiring from the CDC last year.
In a possible sign that the Chinese government may be taking the lab leak theory more seriously than its official statements suggest, Professor Gao also told the BBC that some sort of official investigation had been carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV ).
“The government organized something,” he says, but adds that it did not involve his own department, the China CDC.
We asked him to clarify whether this meant another branch of the government had conducted official research into WIV — one of China’s top national laboratories, known for having spent years studying coronaviruses. “Yes,” he replied, “that lab has been verified by experts in the field.”
The outcome of official investigations is not known
It is the first such acknowledgment that some kind of official investigation has taken place, but while Professor Gao says he has not seen the result, he has “heard” that the lab has received a health certificate.
“I think their conclusion is that they are following all the protocols. They didn’t find it [nicio] deviation”.
From the beginning there were two main possibilities.
One is that the virus spread naturally from bats to humans, perhaps through other animals. Many scientists say the evidence suggests this is the most likely scenario.
But other scientists say there is not enough evidence to rule out the main alternative possibility — that the virus infected a person involved in research that was designed to better understand the threat posed by naturally occurring viruses.
These two alternatives are now at the center of a geopolitical dispute, a mass of conspiracy theories, and one of the most politicized and toxic scientific debates of our time.