Basmah Qazi

Travel Trouble

Chinese “batwoman” scientist issues chilling prediction

Chinese “batwoman” scientist issues chilling prediction

Before the coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise, a Chinese scientist who was the first in the world to discover the genetic sequence of the virus issued a terrifying public prediction.

She’s named the “Batwoman” of Wuhan by those who work with her as she has been studying the potential viruses’ bats carry for years, even going on expeditions to bat caves which she describes as “spellbinding”.

Shi Zenghli has warned the world for years that the wildlife trade of bats, civets and other animals was only going to result in disaster.

She co-authored a paper five years ago that contained a warning for the public that the SARS virus outbreak "heralded a new era in the cross-species transmission of severe respiratory illness with globalisation leading to rapid spread around the world and massive economic impact."

"Although public health measures were able to stop the SARS-CoV outbreak, recent metagenomics studies have identified sequences of closely related SARS-like viruses circulating in Chinese bat populations that may pose a future threat,'' the paper states.

During that time, Dr Shi gave a Ted Talk, discussing the history of bat-bourne viruses which included the Hendra outbreak in Australia where she worked with the CSIRO.

In the presentation, she mentioned that more SARS-style viruses were lurking in bat caves and humans were to blame for putting “pig farms next to bat colonies”.

“Even though we have been looking for so many viruses for so many years, SARS didn’t come back,” she said.

“But in fact, in nature, these viruses similar to SARS … actually it’s still there.

"If we humans do not become vigilant, the next time the virus gets infected, either directly or through other animals. This possibility is entirely possible."

Now, amid the coronavirus outbreak, Dr Shi is at the centre of a diplomatic war of words between the US and China, as the US claims the Chinese government “covered up” her COVID-19 findings during a critical week in January.

On December 30, authorities in Wuhan approached Dr Shi and asked her team to analyse blood samples, making her the first scientist in the world to learn about COVID-19.

On February 3, her team publicly reported for the first time that the virus was born from bats.

"Here we report on a series of cases caused by an unidentified pneumonia disease outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province, central China,'' the paper states.

"This disease outbreak - which started from a local seafood market - has grown substantially to infect 2761 people in China, is associated with 80 deaths and has led to the infection of 33 people in 10 additional countries as of 26 January 2020. Typical clinical symptoms of these patients are fever, dry cough, breathing difficulties (dyspnoea), headache and pneumonia. Disease onset may result in progressive respiratory failure owing to alveolar damage and even death.

"Samples from seven patients with severe pneumonia (six of whom are sellers or deliverymen from the seafood market), who were admitted to the intensive care unit of Wuhan Jin Yin-Tan Hospital at the beginning of the outbreak, were sent to the laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) for the diagnosis of the causative pathogen. As a laboratory investigating CoV, we first used pan-CoV PCR primers to test these samples13, given that the outbreak occurred in winter and in a market - the same environment as SARS infections."

But according to the Mail on Sunday, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology Yanyi Wang ordered Dr Shi and other key officials to not disclose information on the disease in January.

She warned “inappropriate and inaccurate information” was causing “general panic” and warned the National Health Commission "unequivocally requires that any tests, clinical data, test results, conclusions related to the epidemic shall not be posted on social media platforms, nor shall [it] be disclosed to any media outlets including government official media".

Speaking to Scientific American, Dr Shi insisted that COVID-19 came from wet markets, but that her first fear was it escaped from her own lab.

But she said this is not possible because the genetic code of COVID-19 does not match the coronaviruses her team was working on.

However, she allegedly released a strange statement through a Chinese social messaging app in early February, saying those claiming the virus came from her Wuhan lab should “shut their stinking mouths.”

"The novel 2019 coronavirus is nature punishing the human race for keeping uncivilised living habits,'' it said.

"I, Shi Zhengli, swear on my life that it has nothing to do with our laboratory," she wrote on a Chinese social messaging app in early February, according to Caixin Global.

"I advise those who believe and spread rumours from harmful media sources … to shut their stinking mouths."