WHO scientist eyes on Wuhan lab that moved before pandemic

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WHO scientist eyes on Wuhan lab that moved before pandemic

A Wuhan lab that was quietly moved by Chinese officials in December 2019 — drawing scrutiny from a World Health Organization scientist — operated under a mild safety level protocol where workers weren’t necessarily required to wear masks, officials said in reports.

At least one employee of the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention facility — different than the city’s much-discussed Wuhan Institute of Virology — tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies due to “a family cluster transmission,” though it’s unclear when the tests were conducted, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a World Health Organization report.

The lab, where Chinese scientists research mild human diseases with bats, was moved near the seafood market where the first COVID-19 cases were found just days before the outbreak, WHO investigators said.

Classified with a “Biosafety Level of 2,” the lab also has ventilation controls that aren’t as strict as other more secure facilities, according to the report.

Peter Ben Embarek speaks during a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province on February 9, 2021.
Dr. Ben Embarek questions why the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention facility was moved on December 2, 2019.
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Security personnel guard the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan during the World Health Organization’s visit on February 3, 2021.
Security personnel guard the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan during the World Health Organization’s visit on February 3, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

The revelation comes as Dr. Ben Embarek, the Danish head of a WHO-led team of investigators that probe the viruses’ origins, said in an interview this week that more information is needed about the lab’s move.

“It’s interesting that the lab relocated on the 2nd of December 2019: That’s the period where it all started,” Embarek, a food safety and animal diseases expert, said in a documentary that aired on the Danish television channel TV2.

“We know that when you move a lab, it disturbs everything…That entire procedure is always a disruptive element in the daily work routine of a lab,” he said.

Peter Ben Embarek speaks during a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province on February 9, 2021.
Dr. Ben Embarek claims COVID-19 leaking from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is now a “probable hypothesis.”
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China’s “bat woman” virologist Shi Zhengli works with other researchers in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in central Hubei province on Feb. 23, 2017.
China’s “bat woman” virologist Shi Zhengli works with other researchers in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in central Hubei province on Feb. 23, 2017.
FeatureChina

Despite his previous assertion that it’s “extremely unlikely” the virus leaked from a lab in China, he now considers the theory a “probable hypothesis,” he said in the interview.

His team’s findings note that the Wuhan CDC moved the facility just days before the onset of the first known case of COVID-19 on Dec. 8, 2019 — and that such relocations “can be disruptive for the operations of any laboratory.”

But it also noted that the lab reported “no disruptions or incidents” due to the move.

Peter Ben Embarek speaks during a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province on February 9, 2021.
Dr. Ben Embarek believes the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention facility must’ve been severely disrupted by a COVID-19 outbreak.
AFP via Getty Images

In the documentary, Embarek also revealed that his team was pressured by Chinese officials not to pursue the lab leak theory.

They may have steered WHO scientists away from probing the theory because there was “human error behind such an incident” and a feeling among the Chinese that “you should not lose face,” he said.

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