China’s ‘Batwoman’ Scientist Warns Of Another Coronavirus Outbreak

New Delhi: China’s batwoman, virologist Shi Zhengli, who is known for her research on viruses originating from animals, has warned that a new coronavirus may emerge in the future. Shi has stressed global readiness to combat such outbreaks, drawing from the lessons of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, according to the South China Morning Post.

The top Chinese virologist, who has conducted research on bats and their role as carriers of infectious agents that can transmit to humans, has pointed out that past instances of coronavirus-induced diseases, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the COVID-19 pandemic, underscore the possibility of future outbreaks.

Shi’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)-based team, evaluated the risk of 40 different coronavirus species spilling over from animals to humans. Alarmingly, they classified half of them as “highly risky.” Of these, six are already known to have caused diseases in humans, while three others have evidence suggesting their potential to infect either humans or other animal species, according to the Hong Kong-based daily.

The study’s conclusions are unequivocal, warning that the future emergence of the deadly disease is almost certain, with another coronavirus outbreak highly likely. The assessment was based on a thorough analysis of viral characteristics, encompassing population dynamics, genetic diversity, host species, and past instances of zoonosis – the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.

Although this pivotal study was published in the English-language journal Emerging Microbes & Infections in July, it only gained widespread attention on Chinese social media only recently. This comes as Beijing is reportedly downplaying the concerns over COVID-19.

More importantly, Chinese virologists have avoided commenting on Shi’s latest research, given the sensitivities around her work based at the infamous Wuhan Institute. Earlier this month, the US federal agency announced that it has officially banned WIV from receiving funding for the next 10 years.

This decision comes as US media reports suggest the COVID-19 pandemic leaked out of a Chinese lab, possibly the Wuhan Institute, which conducted risky gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses, according to The New York Post (NYP). US intelligence documents from June stated there was no conclusive evidence supporting the lab leak hypothesis, although the lab leak theory couldn’t be definitively ruled out.

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