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Dr Roland Wiesendanger, from the University of Hamburg, has published a 100-page paper in support of his claim. However World Health Organisation (WHO) scientists have dismissed the theory as “extremely unlikely”.
The Chinese government has categorically denied COVID-19 could have begun at the Wuhan Institute for Virology.
Dr Wiesendanger cites safety concerns around the facility, authorities’ failure to find a coronavirus animal host and controversial “gain-of-function” research taking place at the laboratory in support of his theory.
There have been calls for “gain-of-function” research, during which a virus is deliberately strengthened for scientific reasons, to be banned.
Speaking to German newspaper ZDF Dr Wiesendanger said: “I am 99.9 percent certain that the coronavirus came from the laboratory.”
“I am 99.9 percent certain the coronavirus came from the laboratory”
Coronavirus was first recorded in Hubei province late last year
A similar claim was made last May by then-US President Donald Trump.
Asked by a journalist whether he had seen evidence giving “a high degree of confidence” the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute for Virology he replied: “Yes I have.”
However when asked for details President Trump said: “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
Dr Wiesendanger, who admits his theory is based on “circumstantial evidence”, points out no natural host for COVID-19 has yet been found.
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WHO scientists visited the Wuhan Institute this month
The closest relative, a coronavirus called RaTG13, was found in bats 1,200 miles away from Wuhan in 2012.
The scientist suggested samples of this were taken to the Wuhan Institute where they were strengthened before managing to escape.
As evidence for this he notes pre-existing safety concerns around the laboratory and the virus being particularly good at targeting human cells.
However other academics have suggested the virus most likely moved from bats to some other animal before being passed to humans, continuing to mutate along the way.
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More than 2.4 million people have been killed by coronavirus globally
Dr Wiesendanger’s research has been criticised by some within the scientific community, who note it lists YouTube videos and newspaper articles as sources.
They also point out he is a physicist, not a virus specialist.
The new study was published just days after Dr Peter Embarek, who led a WHO team that visited the Wuhan Institute, said it is “extremely unlikely” the virus escaped from the site.
Asked about the laboratory theory Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who was also part of the WHO team, also played down any link.
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Speaking to NPR she said: “So from everything that we’ve looked at, and we’ve also visited three labs involved and also three labs that work on these viruses, we have not been able to find any credible link there.”
Chinese authorities have repeatedly insisted COVID-19 did not originate at the Wuhan Institute.
However the US has accused China of failing to be fully transparent about the origins of the coronavirus.
“That lack of transparency is a profound problem”
Speaking to NBC Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “There is no doubt that, especially when COVID-19 first hit but even today, China is falling far short of the mark when it comes to providing the information necessary to the international community.
“All of the — that lack of transparency, that lack of being forthcoming, is a profound problem and it’s one that continues.”
Coronavirus has been linked to 2.4 million deaths around the world, though the real figure is almost certainly higher.