Coronavirus was not synthesised in a laboratory: WHO's chief scientist

P4 laboratory (centre) on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been accused of being the source of the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - The Covid-19 coronavirus was not synthesised in a laboratory, the World Health Organisation's chief scientist has said.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said: "What we do know is that this is a naturally occurring virus, that it was not artificially synthesised in the lab."

"I think that scientists have been quite clear about (that), because there are markers in the genome that would have given it away if it had been a synthesised gene," she added.

Responding to a question on a theory recently proposed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the virus came from a sophisticated high security bio lab in Wuhan, Dr Swaminathan said: "I don't have an opinion on that.

"We know that most likely this came from a bat. What we don't know is how and when it actually transferred from the bat to the human, and what this intermediate animal was, and when those events happened and whether it was a single event or a series of events where it jumped. So those things still need to be investigated by scientists.

"I hope that there can be some international collaborative effort on this because it will definitely help inform future guidelines and steps that one would need to take to prevent such a thing from happening again," Dr Swaminathan said.

"For those things, we're in discussions with the Chinese government about having an international team work with the Chinese researchers actually, to understand this much better."

Asked about the state of such international collaboration with China, she said "There's been a lot of active collaboration on many, many topics, not on this one specifically."

"Chinese scientists and researchers have worked with WHO, have worked with other international partners," she said.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan said that the virus was not artificially synthesised in a lab. PHOTO: COURTESY OF DR SOUMYA SWAMINATHAN

Dr Swaminathan was speaking on the eve of a World Health Assembly annual meeting on Monday (May 18).

The meeting usually brings together representatives from the WHO's 194 member states in Geneva to discuss health issues. This year, it will for the first time be held via teleconference, and a major focus is expected to be the coronavirus which has caused a pandemic that has crippled the global economy.

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