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France says no evidence Covid-19 linked to Wuhan research lab set up with French help

An aerial view of the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, China taken April 17, 2020.
An aerial view of the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, China taken April 17, 2020. Hector RETAMAL AFP
3 min

France on Friday said there was no factual evidence so far of a link between the Covid-19 outbreak and the work of the P4 research laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which France helped set up and where the current pandemic started.

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"We would like to make it clear that there is to this day no factual evidence corroborating recent reports in the US press linking the origins of Covid-19 and the work of the P4 laboratory of Wuhan, China," an official at President Emmanuel Macron's office said.

The broad scientific consensus holds that SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the coronavirus, originated in bats.

In 2004, France signed an agreement with China to establish a research lab on infectious diseases of biosafety level 4, the highest level, in Wuhan, according to a French decree signed by then-foreign minister Michel Barnier.

US trying to determine if virus originated in lab

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his government was trying to determine whether the coronavirus emanated from a lab in Wuhan, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Beijing "needs to come clean" on what they know.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday that US intelligence indicates that the coronavirus likely occurred naturally, as opposed to being created in a laboratory in China, but there is no certainty either way.

The Washington Post said this week that national security officials in the Trump administration have long suspected research facilities in Wuhan to be the source of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

As far back as February, the Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology dismissed rumours that the virus may have been artificially synthesised at one of its laboratories or perhaps escaped from such a facility.

The allegations came amid mounting international criticism of China’s initial cover-up of the virus and suspicions that Beijing had not revealed the extent of the public health crisis due to economic concerns.

China on Friday revised its pandemic toll again, this time by a major 50 percent increase in the total death toll. But Chinese authorities denied it was due to a cover-up, maintaining the revision was due to insufficient capacity during the peak of the pandemic.

The lab at the heart of the controversy

The Wuhan research laboratory at the heart of the controversy is home to the China Centre for Virus Culture Collection, the largest virus bank in Asia which, preserves more than 1,500 strains, according to its website.

The complex contains Asia's first maximum security lab equipped to handle Class 4 pathogens (P4) -- dangerous viruses that pose a high risk of person-to-person transmission, such as Ebola.

The 300 million yuan ($42 million) lab was completed in 2015, and finally opened in 2018, with the founder of a French bio-industrial firm, Alain Merieux, acting as a consultant in its construction. The institute also has a P3 laboratory that has been in operation since 2012.

The 3,000-square-metre P4 lab, located in a square building with a cylindrical annex, lies near a pond at the foot of a forested hill in Wuhan's remote outskirts.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

 

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