The only foreign scientist to conduct research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology's BSL-4 lab says people have the wrong impression of it as likely to enable the escape of a deadly virus. The "lab leak" theory on the coronavirus has not been proven, though a report claimed three lab researchers were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms during flu season in November 2019, per the New Republic. The Chinese government and the lab's most famous virologist deny a leak, while Australian virologist Danielle Anderson, an expert in bat-borne viruses who was working at the lab up until that time, says she never saw anyone who was ill, per Bloomberg. That was despite taking a bus with colleagues to the research center—which carries the highest biosafety designation—each day for a period in late 2019. Colleagues also joined her for a conference in Singapore in December of that year.
"If people were sick, I assume that I would have been sick—and I wasn't," the 42-year-old tells Bloomberg, noting testing has shown she has never been infected with COVID-19. Anderson says the lab followed strict, mandatory rules for containing pathogens. Researchers, who communicated with the lab's command center via headset, had to undergo 45 hours of training to work independently in the biocontainment lab. Leaving it meant taking a chemical shower, followed by a personal shower. "I'm not naive enough to say I absolutely write this off," Anderson says of the "lab leak" theory. She notes there's a slim chance a person working on "gain of function" research to make a virus more transmissible could have infected themselves, but there's no evidence of that. The debate is likely to rage for some time. "It took 15 years to trace SARS definitively to bats," per the New Republic. (Read more coronavirus stories.)