Shi Zhengli, a renowned Chinese virologist often referred to as the “batwoman” due to her extensive research on viruses originating from animals, has issued a concerning warning. In a recent paper co-authored with her colleagues, Shi emphasized that there is a significant likelihood that another coronavirus will emerge in the future.
This cautionary note is based on her expertise, as coronaviruses have previously caused major outbreaks like the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, reported the South China Morning Post.
Shi and her team from the Wuhan Institute of Virology conducted an evaluation of 40 different coronavirus species to assess their potential for spillover into human populations.
Alarming findings emerged, with half of these species categorised as “highly risky.” Among these, six had already caused diseases in humans, while evidence suggested that three had infected other animal species.
The research concludes that “future disease emergence” is nearly certain, with a high likelihood of another coronavirus-related outbreak.
This prediction is grounded in an analysis of various viral characteristics, including population dynamics, genetic diversity, host species, and the history of zoonotic transmission (diseases transmissible from animals to humans).
Shi Zhengli’s work has been shrouded in controversy, with suspicions, particularly among some US politicians, that COVID-19 originated from a potential lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The lab-leak theory remains contentious, with many scientists favoring the hypothesis that the virus likely originated in animals, possibly bats, before transmitting to humans through an intermediary host.
Declassified US intelligence documents released in June noted that while there was no conclusive evidence supporting the lab leak theory, it could not be definitively ruled out.
Separately, an anonymous scientist from China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted a perceptible shift in China’s handling of COVID-19, suggesting that Chinese authorities may be downplaying the virus’s significance. Some cities have ceased releasing infection data, signalling a shift in public health priorities.