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Wuhan lab ‘deletes pictures of scientists “handling bat samples”‘

Deleted photographs from the website of a lab in Wuhan are fuelling conspiracy theories over the source of the pandemic.

It is believed the outbreak happened at a wet market in the Chinese city, but Wuhan also houses one of the world’s leading virology laboratories leading some, notably the US president , to suggest otherwise.

These pictures, appearing to show low safety standards among staff at the laboratory, will do little to dissuade that view.

In the past month, according to , the Wuhan’s Institute of Virology has taken down pictures of people working in its laboratories and removed references to US diplomatic visitors who questioned its work on bats.

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Edited pages showed staff wearing minimal protective equipment entering caves to take swabs from bats – what is believed to be the source of coronavirus that would become Covid-19 in humans.

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References to a visit by US diplomat in Beijing, Rick Switzer, in March 2018 also appear to have been removed.

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Mr Switzer sent official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety levels and the risky coronavirus studies it was undertaking two years before the pandemic broke.

The reported that in January 2018 the US Embassy in Beijing repeatedly sent science officers to the lab, which had become China’s first site to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety.

A press release about the visits was published in March that year only for them to be erased in April this year, although they do remain archived on the internet.

One cable from Mr Switzer to the US State Department read: ‘During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they [the diplomats] noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.’

The latest images to surface come after .

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The US’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence, issued a statement saying: ‘The intelligence community will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.’

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