The source of the coronavirus pandemic has become a key debate as scientists have grappled with how to combat the disease. Some researchers believe the virus originated in animals and that the pandemic could have been sparked by wet markets, however there is a lack of certainty on this. The doubts led to a growth of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, including one which claims the virus was manmade at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Others have claimed that COVID-19 may have been sourced from an-accident at the lab – another baseless claim.
Efforts to debunk the conspiracies have not been helped by US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus” while making other incoherent claims about its origins.
Scientists have noted that “the available data argue overwhelmingly against any scientific misconduct or negligence”.
Virologists interviewed by NPR have said that there is virtually no chance that the virus emerged from a lab.
This rise in conspiracy theories surrounding the lab comes as bad news for France and its president Emmanuel Macron, though.
This is because the Wuhan Institute of Virology has strong ties with the Centre International de Recherche en Infectiologie (
International Center for Research in Infectious Diseases).
The research centre is based in Lyon, France, and was a source of support for the developers of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
A BSL-4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology received significant and substantial support of the conceptual, engineering and logistical varieties from the International Center for Research in Infectious Diseases.
Both labs were built with the aim of fighting deadly diseases.
Shi Zhengli, the laboratory’s globally respected expert has led research in the past that has helped in the fight against COVID-19.
She led a series of field expeditions to remote locations to work out how such viruses could jump between species.
In 2004, she discovered a natural reservoir of coronaviruses in bats living in caves in southern China.
In 2017, she and her team established that the coronavirus that caused SARs came from bats.
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It was this information that helped her team identify COVID-19 in early January.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology’s origin story has another link to France.
In 2004, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier – then French Foreign Minister – signed a decree that led to the Wuhan lab’s creation.
French firms got only minor roles in the building of the laboratory, and by the time it opened in 2017 cooperation had collapsed.
One group that has come under fire for its role in the pandemic is the Chinese Communist Party.
Experts have highlighted the Chinese government’s lack of transparency in the early stages of the pandemic.
The world was first alerted to coronavirus in December 2019, but one of the whistleblowers – Li Wenliang, a doctor in Wuhan – was punished for warning other doctors of a new SARS-like disease in a WhatsApp chat.
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He was reprimanded for “spreading rumours” by Chinese police – who forced him to sign a police document admitting that he had “seriously disrupted social order”.
After catching the coronavirus, Li died in early February and caused Chinese internet to overflow with anti-government messages despite the country’s strict censorship.
The doctor has been officially exonerated by an investigation into his death, although some argue this did not go far enough as only the reprimand was withdrawn.
While the coronavirus threat reached other countries, China’s attempts to prevent news of the disease travelling has been condemned.
Expert on Chinese history and politics – Professor Steve Tsang – says the country’s government opts for secrecy by default.
Mr Tsang highlights how there is a severe lack of transparency in Beijing which likely contributed to the escalation of the crisis.
He told Express.co.uk in April: “The Chinese Communist Party does secrecy as a matter of course.
“So I think the early stages of the lack of transparency isn’t the result of any particular conspiracy or ill-intention to move – the party doesn’t do transparency as a normal course of action.”