• Chinese government facing fresh accusations of cover-up after data is deleted 
  • Deletion of evidence reignited fears China is trying to whitewash investigation
  • China has been accused before of suppressing vital evidence about virus origins

By JONATHAN BUCKS FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY

PUBLISHED: 09:06 AEDT, 10 January 2021 | UPDATED: 09:07 AEDT, 10 January 2021

The Chinese government is facing fresh accusations of a cover-up after officials deleted crucial online data about the laboratory suspected of being the source of Covid-19.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that hundreds of pages of information relating to studies carried out by the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology have been wiped.

Details of more than 300 studies, including many investigating diseases that pass from animals to humans, published online by the state-run National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) are no longer available.Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan-based scientist noted for her trips to gather samples in China’s bat caves+2

Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan-based scientist noted for her trips to gather samples in China’s bat caves

The deletion of key evidence has reignited fears that China is trying to whitewash the investigation into the origins of the virus.Read More

It comes after President Xi Jinping last week blocked investigators from the World Health Organisation entering the country in a move that drew international condemnation. Meanwhile, state media outlets have published hundreds of stories claiming that the virus did not even originate in the city of Wuhan.

As part of the NSFC’s purge of online studies, it has deleted all reference to those carried out by Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan-based virologist who has earned the nickname Batwoman for her trips to gather samples in bat caves.The P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province+2

The P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province

Studies key to any investigation into the source of the virus, including one into the risk of cross-species infection from bats with Sars-like coronaviruses, and another looking at human pathogens carried by bats, have also disappeared.

Last night, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said The Mail on Sunday’s revelations were another example of a Chinese cover-up.

‘China is clearly trying to hide the evidence,’ he added. ‘It is vital that there is a thorough investigation into what happened but China seems to be doing all it can to stop that happening.

‘We don’t know what was going on in that laboratory. It may well be the case that they played around with bat coronaviruses and made some kind of mistake. Unless China opens itself up to scrutiny, the world will assume they have something to hide.’

It is not the first time that China has been accused of suppressing vital evidence about the origins of the virus.

Days before the WHO was alerted to the outbreak of Sars-like pneumonia cases in Wuhan in December 2019, the Wuhan Institute of Virology began altering its database of viral pathogens.

The Wildlife-borne Viral Pathogen Database was unique because it included information on virus variants in other wild animals.

Among the changes, which experts believe were made to throw investigators off the scent, keywords such as ‘wildlife’ or ‘wild animals’ were deleted.

The title was changed from Wildlife-borne Viral Pathogen Database to Bat And Rodent-borne Viral Pathogen Database. The term ‘wild animal’ was replaced with ‘bat and rodent’ or ‘bat and rat’.

Other terms connecting the database with the outbreak were also wiped. ‘Emerging infectious diseases’ and ‘cross-species infection’ were used in the original version.