Western intelligence agencies keeping close watch on Wuhan lab scientist who researched coronavirus in bats
Amid the snowballing suspicion that the deadly coronavirus originated from a lab in Wuhan, China, to engulf the entire world, western intelligence agencies are keeping a close watch on the work of Peng Zhou, a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) which has come under the scanner.
An expose by an Australian daily has said the tracking is part of a joint international investigation into the origins of the virus that has hit more than three million lives globally.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Australia, the Five Eyes intelligence agencies of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK and the US are closely following Zhou’s work to determine whether the virus originated from a wet market as it is commonly believed or was leaked from the lab during the study of deadly coronavirus pathogens from bats.
Peng’s name has, in fact, come up a number of times in the recent past. Recently, a Singapore-based scientist named Danielle Anderson made headlines for objecting to the theory that the virus originated from the lab in Wuhan where she herself had worked.
It was found from the website of the Singapore institute where she works that she has had several collaborations with Peng.
In January, a report in Zero Hedge said the WIV was seeking to hire two post-doc fellows who will use bats "to research the molecular mechanism that allows Ebola and SARS-associated coronaviruses to lie dormant for a long time without causing diseases".
It was also revealed that the job posting was for the lab of Peng, head of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunization Group.
The Telegraph report stated that Zhou — the head of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunity Project at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — spent three years at the bio-containment facility, Australian Animal Health Laboratory between 2011 and 2014, where he was sent by China to complete his doctorate."
During this time, Zhou arranged for wild-caught bats to be transported alive by air from Queensland to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Victoria where they were euthanized for dissection and studied for deadly viruses.
His work was funded jointly by the CSIRO and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It examined bat immunology and the role of interferons and how 'bats are rich reservoirs for emerging viruses, including many that are highly pathogenic to humans and other mammals" and "many of which cause significant morbidity and mortality in humans and other mammals," according to the report.
Peng's female colleague also under West's lens
Western sleuths are also keeping a close watch on Shi Zhengli, a colleague of Peng and the director of WIV's Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases.
In another report by Zero Hedge made in February, it was said that Shi co-penned a controversial paper five years ago that described the creation of a new virus that combined a coronavirus found in Chinese horseshoe bats with another that causes the human-like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in mice.
This research raised a storm over its risk factor. A Nature report said in 2015 that these findings only made the suspicions stronger that bat coronaviruses can directly harm humans.
In the middle of April, the Washington Post said in a report that the State Department got two cables from the American Embassy officials two years ago that issued inadequate safety measures at WIV where "risky studies" of bat coronaviruses were being undertaken.
What made it more uncomfortable for the American side is that the lab had been functioning as part of a huge grant of $3.7 million from Washington.
Meanwhile, the Australian daily's revelation came when the country was putting more pressure on China to cooperate with the international fraternity to track the origins of the virus.
"The Chinese Communist Party must take responsibility for the virus that began inside their borders and work with the rest of the world to prevent it from happening again. We are simply asking for transparency and co-operation," said Andrew Hastie, chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
Over 6,700 people have been hit by the virus on the island continent while 83 people have died.
China though has been less cooperative in allowing access to international inspectors to its lab, something that the US requested recently. Beijing has also been less responsive towards Australia's call and the relation between the two countries has reached a new low now.