Report claims Chinese scientists found virus 96 percent similar to COVID-19 in 2013 but kept it secret

Chinese scientists discovered a virus similar to COVID-19 in an abandoned mine in 2013 but kept it a secret, according to a damning new report. 

An investigation by The Sunday Times claims the "world’s closest known relative to the Covid-19" was found in the bat and rat infested copper mine and kept in a lab in Wuhan.

The virus was discovered when six men became unwell with fever, coughs and pneumonia after working in the mine. Three of the men died. 

Two of the men were unable to be tested for coronavirus antibodies before they died but four of the men tested positive the antibodies, according to The Sunday Times. 

Shi Zhengli, the head of the institute’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, co-authored a paper in February which gave a full genetic description of the virus and said that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had a bat sample, named RaTG13, which was a 96.2 percent match with COVID-19.

But one of Zhengli's co workers claimed the sample was actually found in the mine in 2013 but was kept secret, according to The Sunday Times.

The report follows United States President Donald Trump claiming he had evidence that COVID-19 came from a lab in Wuhan. Trump did not share what the evidence is. 

"You had the theory from the lab, you had the theory from the bats, the type of bat, and the bat is 40 miles away, so it couldn't have been here and it couldn't have been there, and we have a lot of theories," Trump told reporters at a press conference in May. 

"But, yeah, we have people looking at it very, very strongly. Scientific people, intelligence people and others, and we're going to put it all together and I think we're going to have a very good answer eventually," he said. 

The US president also pulled funding from the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. 

China has agreed that an investigation into COVID-19 is needed but only after the virus is "brought under control". 

There are more than 11 million COVID-19 cases worldwide and so far more than 500,000 people have died.