The Chinese virology institute in the city where COVID-19 first appeared has three living strains of the bat coronavirus on site, but none corresponds to the new contagion that is causing chaos worldwide, the director said.
Scientists believe that COVID-19 – which first appeared in Wuhan and killed around 340,000 people worldwide – comes from bats and could be transmitted to humans through another mammal.
The director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology told state broadcaster CGTN that claims by President Donald Trump and others that the virus may have leaked from the facility were "fake".
In the interview, which was filmed on May 13, but aired on Saturday evening, Wang Yanyi said the center "isolated and preserved some corona viruses from bats."
"Now we have three strains of live viruses … but their closest resemblance to SARS-CoV-2 is only 79.8 percent," she said, referring to the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19.
One of her research teams, led by Professor Shi Zhengli, has been researching bat coronaviruses since 2004 and focused on "tracking SARS", the strain behind another virus outbreak almost two decades ago.
"We know that the entire genome of SARS-CoV-2 is only 80 percent similar to that of SARS. It's an obvious difference," she said.
"In Professor Shi's previous research, they paid no attention to viruses that are less similar to the SARS virus."
Conspiracy rumors that the biosafety laboratory was involved in the outbreak swirled online for months before Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought the theory to the mainstream, claiming there was evidence that the pathogen came from the institute.
The laboratory announced that it received samples of the then unknown virus on December 30, determined the viral genome sequence on January 2, and submitted information about the pathogen to the WHO on January 11.
Wang said in an interview that the team had never "encountered, researched or kept" the virus before receiving samples in December.
"Like everyone else, we didn't even know the virus existed," she said. "How could it have left our lab when we never had it?"
The World Health Organization said Washington has provided no evidence for the "speculative" claims.
In an interview with Scientific American, Shi said that the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence did not match any of the bat coronaviruses that her laboratory had previously collected and examined.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)