MPS have demanded China come clean after a US official stunningly claimed the "most credible" origin of Covid-19 was a lab leak in Wuhan.
Senior Tory MPs Tom Tugendhat and Tobias Ellwood have called on the Government to probe allegations made by Donald Trump's security advisor Matthew Pottinger.
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China has long denied that the virus – which most scientists agree occurred naturally – may have escaped from its highest security lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The allegations come almost exactly a year since the virus first emerged in Wuhan just a stone's throw from the lab – infecting more than 85million people worldwide and killing almost 2million.
Mr Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs SelectCommittee, told The Sun Online the allegations are "extremely serious".
While Mr Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee, said Britain needs to "demand answers" from the Communist Party.
The US are claimed to have a whistleblower former scientist from the Wuhan Institute who is working with their intelligence services.
World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists are due to arrive in China this month to begin a formal probe into the coronavirus's origin.
However, the eight-page mission statement for the WHO study makes no reference to investigating the possibility the virus emerged from a lab.
Questions have loomed over the Wuhan Institute since the start of the pandemic, and scientists there have repeatedly denied any allegations of a leak.
The lab was being used to create hybrid coronaviruses for research purposes, but there is no suggestion Covid-19 is manmade.
China has today denied the allegation again, and instead blamed global outbreaks – shifting away the focus from Wuhan.
This is a question about China's ability to act responsibly in a globalised world
"China’s continued silencing of any local voices who dare to speak out and the ongoing removal of all online commentary suggest the authorities have something to hide," Mr Ellwood told The Sun Online.
"Britain should join Australia in formally demanding answers for until there is clarity."
Mr Tugendhat told The Sun Online: "How China has dealt with the pandemic internationally is extremely concerning, they have been very slow at sharing information – whether about the outbreak or its origins.
"They locked up those who were whistleblowing, and now it seems there is a danger they covered up a leak."
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE WUHAN INSTITUTE?
THE WUHAN Institute of Virology is the highest security level of its kind in all of China – and can be found right at the heart of the origins of the global pandemic.
Various theories have been swirling about the lab, which is headed up by Chinese scientist Dr Shi Zhengli, known as “Bat Woman”.
Most scientists do not believe the virus leaked from the lab, and the lab itself has categorically denied the claims.
The lab specialised in bat-borne viruses and had been carrying out experiences on them since 2015.
Airlocks, full body suits, and chemical showers are required before entering and leaving the lab – the first in China to be accredited with biosafety level 4 (BSL-4).
BSL-4 labs are the only places in the world where scientists can study diseases that have no cure.
Scientists from the lab even tested mysterious virus which killed three miners 1,000 miles away in Yunnan province back in 2012.
It has been suggested this fatal mystery bug may have been the true origin of Covid-19.
Experts at the lab also engineered a new type of hybrid 'super-virus' that can infect humans in 2015, according to medical journal Nature Medicine
Despite fears surrounding the research, the study was designed to show the risk of viruses carried by bats which could be transmitted to humans.
There is no suggestion the facility's 2015 work is linked to the pandemic.
The lab was also recruiting new scientists to probe coronaviruses in bats just seven days before the outbreak.
China has began tightening security around its biolabs with President Xi Jinping saying it was a “national security” issue to improve scientific safety at a meeting last February.
Trump aide Pottinger told a group of international politicians that leaders in China are "admitting" there is a chance the theory suggesting Covid-19 started in a "wet market" is false.
He told them intelligence points to the likelihood of the virus leaking from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, reported The Mail on Sunday.
"There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus," Pottinger said.
He described the incident as a possible: "Leak or accident."
"Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story," he added.
Mr Tugendhat told The Sun Online: "This is extremely serious, Matt Pottinger is one of the world's experts on China – he not only knows the country but he knows the intelligence exceptionally well.
"He will be able to evaluate the situation much better than almost anyone. And I think his comments are extremely important.
"This is exactly the sort of thing the British government should be looking at."
He added: "This is a question about China's ability to act responsibly in a globalised world.
"If China can't be honest about an accidental breach of lab security that has put billions at risk and millions in hospital, it makes it very difficult to be able to trust China in many other areas."
Mr Ellwood told The Sun Online: "Until there is a thorough, transparent, internationally investigation into the pandemic’ origins the world will never know for sure how this outbreak started, where was ground zero and who was patient zero."
China has today hit back at claims the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan lab, and instead Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed "separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world".
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying's also went on the attack when quizzed about the claims from Pottinger.
She instead called on WHO to "investigate the virus in the US" and linked it to a previous flu outbreak, and Fort Detrick military lab in Maryland.
Hua then cited US disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci and said "almost all the scientists and experts in the world" deny claims the virus came from the Wuhan lab.
The tit-for-tat response came as China has been often accused of taking a more aggressive diplomatic stance amid the pandemic, being branded as carrying out "wolf warrior diplomacy".
Scientists are satisfied that Covid-19 is believed to have originated naturally – crossing from bats, to another animal, and then to humans.
Most fingers still point to Chinese wet markets as a possible breeding ground for such viruses.
However, it has been suggested a scientist or lab worker may have accidentally allowed the virus to escape, such as either being infected themselves or improperly disposing of waste.
No concrete evidence of such a claim has been presented as investigations continue.
Pictures previously revealed by The Sun Online showed shoddy conditions inside the lab – despite it being the first in China to be accredited with the highest possible biosafety level.
Researchers at the lab also discovered the new infection is 96 per cent similar to the virus they had discovered in bats held in the lab.
CHINA CORONAVIRUS TIMELINE
CORONAVIRUS originated in Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world as a pandemic.
- December 31, 2019 – China alerts the World Health Organisation (WHO) to an unknown virus in Wuhan
- January 7, 2020 – WHO officials identify the new virus as its linked to a seafood market
- January 11, 2020 – China announces its first death from the virus
- January 13, 2020 – The first case is reported outside China with a case in Thailand
- January 23, 2020 – Wuhan is placed under quarantine
- February 9, 2020 – Death toll in China surpasses Sars outbreak at 811
- February 11, 2020 – Coronavirus is dubbed Covid-19 by WHO
- February 18, 2020 – China's daily infection figures drops below 2,000 for first time
- March 11, 2020 – WHO declares outbreak a global pandemic
- March 18, 2020 – No new cases reports in China for first time since start of outbreak
- March 25, 2020 – China begins to relax quarantine restrictions on Wuhan and Hubei province
- March 31, 2020– US death toll surpasses China
- April 1, 2020 – China admits to unreported asymptomatic cases
Chinese state media has since blamed Britain over the new Covid variant, B117, which has led to the UK being pushed to the brink of a new lockdown.
Beijing has become increasingly bullish over allegations it bungled its coronavirus response, failed to share information, and actively attempted to cover up the outbreak.
Questionable studies emerging in China have tried to bat away blame, claiming the coronavirus may have originated in India, Bangladesh or even Italy.
Damning leaked documents unveiled this week showed that China appears to have lied about the virus to "protect" its image.
China now claims to have mostly returned to normal since the pandemic, with scenes of packed nightclubs, theme parks and sports games now common again.
Pictures showed on New Year's Eve that even in Wuhan life appears to be almost like it was before the pandemic.
Much of the world however continues to suffer, with Britain becoming a new focus point amid the emerging new mutant virus.
More than 2.6million people have been infected in the UK, with 75,023 deaths, while China has only admitted to 87,150 cases and 4,634 deaths.
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