Renowned Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, known as “Batwoman,” and her team at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have revealed that 20 “highly risky” coronavirus species pose a significant threat to future public health.
About the findings: The research team made the conclusion after assessing the human spillover risk of 40 coronavirus species in a study published in July in the English-language journal Emerging Microbes & Infections. Of the 40 species analyzed, they rated half to be at high risk of human spillover, with six already known to have caused diseases in humans and evidence suggesting that three others could also do so.
“It is almost certain that three will be further disease emergence and it is highly likely that a [coronavirus] disease will emerge again,” warned the paper.
About the lab: For years, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has faced questions, particularly from some US politicians, over the facility’s involvement in the origins of COVID-19. While declassified U.S. intelligence documents have found no direct evidence that the virus came from an accident at the lab, the U.S. intelligence community still could not rule out the possibility that it originated from a laboratory.
In July, the U.S. government suspended federal funding to the facility for failing to provide documentation related to concerns over biosafety protocol violations.
Countering the assessment: Citing anonymous Chinese virologists, China’s state-backed media outlet Global Times countered Shi Zhengli‘s warnings. The report highlighted the immunity that populations have developed during the pandemic, suggesting it could help mitigate future outbreaks.
The anonymous scientists also noted that Shi’s study focused on a relative evaluation of 40 coronavirus species, which may not necessarily lead to large-scale outbreaks. They did, however, stress the possibility of sporadic outbreaks, especially during the winter months.