Wuhan 'leak lab' blocked US officials from visiting in 2017 months before safety alarm first raised, shock cable shows

A CHINESE lab at the centre of the Covid leak allegations repeatedly blocked access to the US diplomats who requested a visit, diplomatic cables reveal.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) on at least two occasions rebuffed overtures from the US Consul General for a visit just months before diplomats raised the alarm over safety at the virus lab.

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US State Department correspondence obtained through freedom of information requests by US Right to Know (USRTK) – a public health research non-profit organisation – show the cloak of secrecy around the Chinese lab.

WIV is at the centre of storm that Covid may have leaked from its facilities – spreading out from China and going on to kill 3.5million people worldwide.

The state department cables released by USRTK include one from December 2017 in which the US Consulate approached WIV for an "informal meeting over coffee" so they could arrange an official visit by the Consul General.

However, it revealed just 24 hours before the meeting was due to go ahead – WIV abruptly cancelled the visit, citing an "official meeting".

It notes the Consulate had seen two previous requests to visit WIV also rejected by the lab – which was China's first biosecurity level 4 facility and specialised in bat coronviruses.

The cable was marked "SBU" – which mean sensitive but unclassified.

Months later it appears a visit of some kind did finally go ahead, after which US officials dramatically raised the alarm over safety fears at WIV.

The revelations come as scrutiny becomes laser focused on WIV as allegations of a lab leak are being increasingly taken seriously by governments, including the US and UK.

China still furiously denies everything and has accused the West of playing politics while trying to shift the blame.

It's increasingly clear that US diplomats in China had been concerned for years about the health risks posed by [WIV]

Gary Ruskin, executive director of USRTK, told The Sun Online: "US diplomats knew that the Wuhan Institute was a safety risk, but they couldn't really do anything about it. 

"This is a mistake that can never happen again. 

"We need an international agency — something like the International Atomic Energy Agency — that can do unannounced on-site investigations of biolabs, and that is fully empowered to shut down dangerous biolabs."

The US State Department last year released cables from US Embassy officials in China raising the alarm about WIV.

US officials visited WIV in 2018 and found the lab "has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory".

Mr Ruskin told The Sun Online: "It's increasingly clear that US diplomats in China had been concerned for years about the health risks posed by the Wuhan Institute of Virology."

He added: "If the WIV was in fact the source of SARS-CoV-2, part of the tragedy is that these diplomats grasped at least some of the risks, but there was no safety mechanism to force an investigation of the lab, or require adequate safety standards, or to shut the lab down."

Describing the investigations into the origins of Covid as a "public health and diplomatic fiasco", Mr Ruskin said: "Across the world, we all ought to be ashamed that we are not doing a better job to protect ourselves, our children and grandchildren."

Questions over a possible lab leak have gone mainstream after months of being dismissed as a fringe conspiracy theory and being openly rubbished by many scientists and politicians.

US President Joe Biden last week ordered intelligence services to "redouble" their efforts, it emerged Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been briefed on a possible leak, and British spies have said the theory is "feasible".

What do we know about the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

THE WUHAN Institute of Virology is the highest security lab of its kind in all of China – and can be found right at the heart of the origins of the global pandemic.

Various theories have been swirling about the lab, which is headed up by Chinese scientist Dr Shi Zhengli, known as “Bat Woman”.

Most scientists do not believe the virus leaked from the lab, and the lab itself has categorically denied the claims.

The lab specialised in bat-borne viruses and had been carrying out experiences on them since 2015.

Airlocks, full body suits, and chemical showers are required before entering and leaving the lab – the first in China to be accredited with biosafety level 4 (BSL-4).

BSL-4 labs are the only places in the world where scientists can study diseases that have no cure.

Scientists from the lab even tested mysterious 

virus which killed three miners 1,000 miles away in Yunnan province back in 2012.

It has been suggested this fatal mystery bug may have been the true origin of Covid-19.

Experts at the lab also engineered a new type of hybrid 'super-virus' that can infect humans in 2015, according to medical journal Nature Medicine

Despite fears surrounding the research, the study was designed to show the risk of viruses carried by bats which could be transmitted to humans.

There is no suggestion the facility's 2015 work is linked to the pandemic.

The lab was also recruiting new scientists to probe coronaviruses in bats just seven days before the outbreak.

China has began tightening security around its biolabs with President Xi Jinping saying it was a “national security” issue to improve scientific safety at a meeting last February.

Mr Ruskin described the changing perceptions as a "small step forward" – but warns its imperative we "fully understand how SARS2 came about, to prevent SARS3 from ever happening".

He also called for a further investigation of the Wuhan lab's links in the West, such as the US-based EcoHealthAlliance who handed $600,000 worth of US government funding to WIV.

WIV is known to have been carrying out gain-of-function research – experiments designed to soup up viruses to make them more infectious – as part of its work with the organisation.

"There must be an international investigation of both possible natural and lab origins of SARS-CoV-2," he said.

"It must be a robust, thorough, open investigation with full transparency, and full disclosure of data and findings to the general public.  it must include a full on-site investigation of the Wuhan Institute, along with an unchaperoned inspection of their lab work, virus databases, and sample collections.

"We also need the intelligence agencies of the world to piece together any information they have that may be significant."

Scrutiny is ratcheting up on China, with questions over lab safety at the facility as researchers previously admitted being bitten and sprayed with bat blood.

And there is renewed questions on the Mojiang Mine – where a mystery virus killed three miners in 2012, and from where Covid's closest living relative was recovered at a 96% match.

Meanwhile, the hunt is on for the mysterious "Patient Su" – who could be one of the world's fist Covid cases and who lived just three miles from WIV.

China has long been accused of covering up or distorting its role in the early days of the pandemic, with claims the Communist Party manipulated case and death figures while withholding information from WHO.

China has long been accused of covering up or distorting its role in the early days of the pandemic, with claims the Communist Party manipulated case and death figures while withholding information from WHO.

But as more and more questions emerge, even WHO have ordered a fresh probe after a its first effort was derided and accused of being a "whitewash".

It emerged last month Wuhan lab staff became sick and needed hospital care weeks before China admitted it was facing an outbreak.

There is currently no evidence to suggest the virus was intentionally released by China.

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