COVID-19: The 'Bat Woman' at the centre of suspected pandemic origin refuses to open her laboratory

Shi Zhengli inside a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology
Shi Zhengli inside a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology Photo credit: Chinatopix, via The NewYork Times

Shi Zhengli, a top Chinese virologist, is once again under fire for not opening her Wuhan lab to an investigation into whether the COVID-19 pandemic started there or not. 

Shi Zhengli carried out research and experiments on bats to see if viruses could jump from bats to humans. 

Previously she led expeditions into caves to collect samples from bats to learn how viruses jump from animals to humans.

The New York Times understands top US scientists want more clarity on what her bat experiments were and if there were early infections of Covid-19 among employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

China's refusal to allow an independent investigation into her lab, or to share data on its research, make it difficult to validate Zhengli's claims she did not hold any source of the Coronavirus before the outbreak started.

In a text message obtained by The New York Times, Zhengli says "I don't know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist."

She continued to denounce the backlash from other scientists in a rare online email The New York Times published, saying their suspicions are 'baseless', including the allegations her staffers were infected with the virus before the outbreak emerged. 

A letter signed by 18 top scientists from universities all over America, has called for all labs and health agencies to open up records to the public. They say it  would allow a much needed transparent investigation into COVID-19s' origins.

Microbiologist at Stanford University, David Relman, told The New York Times "This has nothing to do with fault or guilt...It's just bigger than any one scientist or institute or any one country, anybody anywhere who has data of this sort needs to put it out there."

World Health Organisation experts were allowed limited access to investigate lab and health centres in Beijing. The results of the brief investigation WHO reported was that a lab leak was extremely unlikely. The New York Times understands that the result was not considered believable by scientists, including World Health Organisation Head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who said "I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough."