Wuhan lab virus leak fears raised in early February
Advice to the Morrison government as early as February suggested that COVID-19 may have been an inadvertent leak from a Wuhan laboratory, three senior federal sources have confirmed.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal in the early days of the outbreak the probability was initially placed at around 50 per cent that COVID-19 was accidentally released from a bio-containment facility but this was swiftly downgraded to a five per cent chance as more became known about the virus.
Responding to The Daily Telegraph's revelations that Five Eyes intelligence agencies were looking at the Wuhan Institute of Virology after it was revealed two senior scientists had worked in Australia studying live bats, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the reason Australia wanted a review was to understand "exactly" how the coronavirus started.
"We want a clear, independent, fearless global review of the origins, the actions, and the global path forward, in relation to this and all future pandemics," he said.
In the upper echelons of the Morrison government it is now considered unlikely the naturally-occurring, highly-infectious coronavirus came from a laboratory but that further investigations are required to advance world knowledge and prevent future pandemics.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said while he could not comment on the Telegraph's report that senior Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists Peng Zhou and Shi Zhengli studied bats at the CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory, he said: "Obviously, ASIO and our agencies do a lot of work with their international counterparts, particularly the Five Eyes community. We've looked at a number of cases, particularly over the last couple of years," he said.
"But it's not something I'd comment on in terms of the investigation."
Mr Zhou - the head of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunity Project at the Wuhan Institute of Virology - spent three years at the bio-containment facility Australian Animal Health Laboratory between 2011 and 2014.
The other scientist whose work is being looked at is Ms Zhengli, who is the director of the Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Wuhan Institute of Virology. She also spent time in Australia in 2006 at the Animal Health Laboratory.
When the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in Wuhan, Ms Zhengli said she had sleepless nights worrying whether it was released from her laboratory but has since strongly denied this occurred. The Daily Telegraph does not suggest the two scientists are responsible for the outbreak or spread of COVID-19, but merely that they have come to the attention of intelligence agencies.
Originally published as Wuhan lab virus leak fears raised in early February