Australian government responds to claims coronavirus was ‘designed for humans’

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has reiterated the importance of an investigation of the origins of the coronavirus outbreak after Australian researchers claimed the virus looked like it was “designed for humans”.

On Monday as he fronted the media, Mr Hunt was pressed on whether the government were too quick to dismiss the theory COVID-19 was man-made inside a Wuhan lab.

The question came about after a paper led by Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky suggested it was impossible to rule out the hypothesis that the virus was created in a cell-culture experiment in a lab.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt addresses the media on Monday. Source: AAP

“What we are saying is that this virus looks for all the world like a virus designed specifically for humans – the only question is did this happen by chance, or intent,” Prof Petrovsky told Yahoo News Australia on Monday.

And while Mr Hunt said the government’s “best advice remains that it came from animal sources”, he said the impending investigation which Australia pushed hard for, would be able to confirm or dismiss such speculation.

“This is precisely why, precisely why, we argue for an impartial independent and comprehensive international investigation and by the result of the world health assembly last week, the unanimous decision, Australia and the EU working together was so important,” he said.

“Now we will have our disease detectives with the capacity to be real disease detectives.”

The Wuhan Institute of Virology (left) and the Wuhan seafood market (right) are two locations that have been at the centre of speculation around the virus's origins. Source: Getty

While a reporter questioned Mr Hunt on a case of coronavirus that is believed to have been detected as early as December in France, he said "we know it originated in Wuhan, the first detected case was in the wet market”.

China has faced intense global criticism over its wild animal trade, which partially operates at some wet markets across the country. Wet markets are used widely across China to buy fresh meat, seafood and fruit and vegetables.

China will now severely punish the illegal hunting and trading of wild animals, it says in its government work report, as it tries to implement a ban imposed in January as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Wuhan seafood market where the virus is believed to have first been detected is understood to have sold wild animals such as bats and pangolins, and China has promised new legislation to make the ban permanent.

Wuhan, Shanghai and other big cities have already banned wild animal consumption, and several provinces have also issued action plans to curb hunting, breeding and trafficking. 

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