THE world has marked the one-year anniversary of the first known coronavirus patient – but a Chinese virologist and whistleblower has warned that even worse pandemics are on the way.
Shi Zhengli, known as ‘bat woman’ for her research on disease in the animals, was working in the city of Wuhan when the coronavirus was first detected, and has said that the current outbreak is just "the tip of the iceberg."
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Reports of a novel coronavirus first appeared late in December of last year, but the first case is now thought to be a 55-year-old man who began showing symptoms on November 17, according to the South China Morning Post.
Cases continued to emerge over the coming weeks, and on December 8 the Chinese government informed the World Health Organisation about the infection.
More than 55million cases have now been reported worldwide, with over 1.3million people confirmed to have died.
The outbreak has been traced to a wild animal market in Wuhan, where Shi, who would become one of the first scientists in the world to study Covid-19, was based as a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Speaking in May to Chinese television network CHTN, she revealed new and potentially worse viruses are being discovered even as the world continues to fight the current pandemic.
“If we want to prevent human beings from suffering from the next infectious disease outbreak, we must go in advance to learn of these unknown viruses carried by wild animals in nature and give early warnings,” she said.
“If we don’t study them there will possibly be another outbreak.”
In October, the World Health Organisation also warned that "Covid-19 will not be the world's last health emergency"
It called on countries around the world to cooperate on a sustainable approach to "health emergency preparedness" and to break the "panic-then-forget" cycle of pandemics.
The anniversary of the first case comes just days after American companies Pfizer and Moderna each announced that vaccines they have been developing have proved more than 90 percent effective in clinic trials.
In May, Shi also urged countries to urgently ramp up their research into deadly zoonotic diseases – those passed from animals to humans.
She said it would be "very regrettable" if science became politicised and called for greater international cooperation in the fight against epidemics.
Shi was reportedly recalled to her lab in December after her team identified a new coronavirus that was linked to horseshoe bats, typically found more than 1,000 miles away in Yunnan, a region of southern China.
Gao Yu, a Chinese journalist, said of Shi: “We learned later her institute finished gene-sequencing and related tests as early as January 2 but was muzzled.”
Shi has also described being initially warned against disclosing her findings to anyone.
Since the start of the pandemic, the regime in Beijing has faced accusations of an attempted cover up.
Doctors who tried to raise the alarm using social media reported being detained, harassed, and accused of trying to cause panic, while journalists trying to cover the issue were similarly harassed and saw their equipment confiscated.
Shi later admitted she initially feared the virus could have accidentally leaked from her laboratory.
However, she then claimed she felt enormous relief when it was established that Covid-19’s genetic sequence did not match any she had previously studied.
But she continues to be dogged by rumours and conspiracy theories.
At one point she had to deny reports she had tried to "defect with secret files" from the Wuhan science hub.
A team of top researchers also said previously that those looking into the origins of the outbreak should probe the possibility it "leaked" from the science hub in Wuhan.
Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, who headed the Australian team, said the virus was not typical of a normal animal-to-human infection as it had the "exceptional" ability to enter our bodies immediately.
And the expert said the "remote" possibility it may have somehow escaped from a testing lab could not be ruled out.
The Professor said the most closely related known viruses were studied at the Wuhan lab.
"The implications may not be good for scientists or global politics, but just because the answers might cause problems, we can’t run away from them," he said.
"There is currently no evidence of a leak but enough circumstantial data to concern us. It remains a possibility until it is ruled out."
And he said the lab should not be overlooked in the ongoing search for the origins of the outbreak.
He added: "This is either a remarkable coincidence or a sign of human intervention. It is possible the virus was a fluke event and it turns out humans were the perfect host."
The Sun previously revealed the Wuhan lab lied about taking safety precautions when collecting bat samples.
Shocking leaked photos – which reveal a scandalous lack of safety – were deleted from the website of under-fire institution.
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US and British intelligence officials reportedly suspect bungling scientists at the Wuhan institute accidentally spread the killer disease during risky coronavirus tests on bats.
It was claimed that Covid-19 was "developed in the Wuhan lab as China hoped to prove it's greater than the US at battling deadly diseases".
However, its director previously blasted claims the pandemic originated at the laboratory.
Wang Yanyi was quoted in Chinese state media as saying such claims are "pure fabrication."
She said the institute did not have "any knowledge before that nor had we ever met, researched or kept the virus."
Wang added: "In fact, like everyone else, we didn't even know the virus existed, so how could it be leaked from our lab when we never have it?"
Most scientists say the novel coronavirus passed from bats to humans through an intermediary species that was likely sold at a wet market in Wuhan late last year.
And the scientific community has mostly rejected the idea that the virus could have been engineered in a lab.
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