A lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology is now considered the most likely origin of the Covid pandemic “behind closed doors” in the Government, it has been claimed. Sarah Knapton, the Telegraph‘s Science Editor, has more.
On Monday, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the U.K. biosecurity strategy would be refreshed to protect against “natural zoonosis and laboratory leaks”, in a public acknowledgement of the threat from insecure research facilities.
There is mounting suspicion that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology which had been collecting and experimenting on dangerous bat coronaviruses in the years before the virus first emerged in the city.
The Government has asked for evidence before drafting a new biosecurity strategy, which will deal with “accidental release and dual-use research of concern, where life science research is capable of being misapplied to do harm”.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an expert on chemical and biological counter-terrorism and former British Army officer, has submitted evidence for the strategy.
He said: “I think the official view [within Government] is that it is as likely as anything else to have caused the pandemic. A lot of people like myself think it is more likely. I think attitudes have changed a little bit. The zoonotic transfer theory just didn’t make sense.
“There is a huge amount of concern about coming out publicly, but behind closed doors most people think it’s a lab leak. And they are coming round to the fact that even if they don’t agree with that, they must accept it’s likely, and they must make sure the policies are in place to stop it.”
He added: “My view, that I’ve put to the Government already, is that we cannot afford emotionally, physically or financially, to go through another pandemic. We must now get on the front foot.”
Lab leaks are fairly common, with smallpox, swine flu, anthrax, foot and mouth disease, and the original Sars virus all known to have escaped from facilities in recent decades. In Britain, there have been more than 100 safety breaches at labs handling dangerous pathogens over the past 15 years.
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