Shi Zhengli, known as the “Bat Woman” for her passionate research about bats and the viruses associated with them, for the first time appeared on China’s state television.
On Tuesday, Shi was interviewed on state-run television CGTN in which she made a direct reference to US President Donald Trump’s allegations that the COVID-19 originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) where she is a lead researcher on bats.
Earlier, her mysterious disappearance sparked speculation about the deadly novel coronavirus emanating from a bio-lab in Wuhan.
She said in the interview that “she warned that such viruses are just the “tip of the iceberg” and expressed regret over science being “politicised”.
Shi Zhengli early this month had refuted “rumours” of her defection to the West on her Chinese social media WeChat account.
She also posted nine photos of her recent life.
Shi explained that she and a group of researchers obtained samples of coronavirus on December 30 last year and performed high-throughput sequencing of the samples and the isolation of pathogens.
“And then in a very short time, we identified that this was a new type of coronavirus in these samples. We obtained its whole genome sequence.
It showed that the pathogen’s sequence was not the same as the already existing viruses.
So we named it a novel coronavirus,” she said, adding that it was submitted to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on January 12.
The researchers carried out animal infection experiments for pathogen identification.
“We completed an animal infection experiment with transgenic mice on February 6. Then we completed the animal infection experiment with rhesus monkeys on February 9. Both the animal infection experiments showed that the coronavirus isolated by us was a cause of the unexplained pneumonia,” she said.
In the English translation of the text of her interview published by state-run channel, there was no reference to her mysterious absence and her tweets denying rumours of her defection.
In an apparent reference to allegations that the virus has emanated from the lab, she said, “I think that science has been politicised. It’s very regrettable. I believe scientists from around the world don’t want to see this. As I mentioned before, the researches on infectious diseases must be open and transparent.”
She said she will continue with her research as there are many types of bats and other wild animals in nature (which could potentially be the carriers of many viruses).
“The viruses that we have discovered are actually just the tip of the iceberg. If we want to protect humans from the outbreak of new infectious diseases, we must take the initiative to learn about these unknown viruses carried by wild animals and give early warnings,” she said.
China is resisting mounting pressure from the US and the leaders of many countries for an inquiry into the origin of the virus, which was initially stated to have emerged from a wet market in Wuhan selling live animals located close to WIV.