Botao Xiao et al wrote titled The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus:

We screened the area around the seafood market and identified two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus. Within ~280 meters from the market, there was the Wuhan Center for Disease Control & Prevention (WHCDC) (Figure 1, from Baidu and Google maps). WHCDC hosted animals in laboratories for research purpose, one of which was specialized in pathogens collection and identification. In one of their studies, 155 bats including Rhinolophus affinis were captured in Hubei (WHCDC) (Figure 1, from Baidu and Google maps) province, and other 450 bats were captured in Zhejiang province. The expert in collection was noted in the Author Contributions (JHT).

Map of region

References cited for the above section:

  1. Guo WP, Lin XD, Wang W, et al. Phylogeny and origins of hantaviruses harbored by bats, insectivores, and rodents. PLoS pathogens 2013; 9(2): e1003159

  2. Lu M, Tian JH, Yu B, Guo WP, Holmes EC, Zhang YZ. Extensive diversity of rickettsiales bacteria in ticks from Wuhan, China. Ticks and tick-borne diseases 2017; 8(4): 574-80.

  3. Shi M, Lin XD, Chen X, et al. The evolutionary history of vertebrate RNA viruses. Nature 2018; 556(7700): 197-202.

  4. Tao P. Expert in Wuhan collected ten thousands animals: capture bats in mountain at night. Changjiang Times 2017.

  5. Li QX, Zhanyao. Playing with elephant dung, fishing for sea bottom mud: the work that will change China's future. thepaper 2019.

According to Business Insider, which reproduced a similar claim:

A branch office of the Wuhan CDC is located about 600 meters — less than half a mile — from the Huanan market via main roads (though it's not the Chinese CDC's only site in Wuhan).

enter image description here

Botao told The Wall Street Journal on March 5, however, that he withdrew the paper because "the speculation about the possible origins in the post was based on published papers and media, and was not supported by direct proofs." [...]

The Chinese have an interest to spend serious resources to suppress the story, so I think that's a reason to discuss whether or not the claim is actually true.

Did the WHCDC host infected bats near the seafood market where the initial COVID-19 outbreak was concentrated?

  • I've retracted my DV after adding a longer quote from that paper. I think there may be a reason to investigate what it claims although ref 7-8 in there are almost certainly title translations from Chinese, so the original articles may be hard to find. Tian JH aka Jun-Hua Tian (JTH) seems to exist and work[ed] at WHCDC; as confirmed by refs 4-5. Even published about the new coronavirus researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/55437615_Jun-Hua_Tian The q title could use some work, but that's Oddthnking's specialty. Apr 16, 2020 at 11:05
  • The BI article I've added to your q now reproduces a similar map claim (and agrees that JTH exists.) I initially thought this is an answer, but it's mostly reproducing the (obvious part) of the claim, i.e. the map bit. Apr 16, 2020 at 11:25
  • 2
    So, to reiterate. This question is NOT about whether the center was the source. We already have similar questions. As the question stands, answers need to show either that the map is correct AND the center was hosting infected bats, OR that the map is incorrect OR that the center was not hosting infected bats. (Or maybe some more surprising explanation, like there is no such things as bats).
    – Oddthinking
    Apr 16, 2020 at 12:06
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    @Oddthinking: actually, the location of the lab is relevant if the claim is it leaked from a particular lab. Apr 16, 2020 at 12:25
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3 Answers 3


While the BI article, which I've partially edited into the question to reinforce the claim, indeed agrees that

Much of the theory about a lab leak is based on the proximity of those research labs — the Wuhan CDC and the Institute of Virology — to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, the wet market previously thought to be the outbreak's origin point. That's because a non-peer-reviewed paper, which was retracted, cited the market's proximity to two labs. [...]

A branch office of the Wuhan CDC is located about 600 meters — less than half a mile — from the Huanan market via main roads (though it's not the Chinese CDC's only site in Wuhan).

and also confirms the easily double-checked existence of "JHT" as Jun-Hua Tian, it also says

Another issue with the theory described in Botao's retracted paper is that studies and reports are increasingly finding that people in Wuhan were getting sick in early December and potentially even November. Many early cases had no connection to the Huanan market.

A recent study in the journal Nature Microbiology suggests that the new coronavirus had already established itself and begun spreading in Wuhan by early January. Earlier research published in The Lancet showed that the first person to test positive for the coronavirus was most likely exposed to it on December 1 and then showed symptoms on December 8. The study found that 13 of the 41 original cases showed no link to the wet market.

A team of infectious-disease researchers in China also reported in February that they'd found surges in the use of terms related to the coronavirus on WeChat more than two weeks before officials confirmed the first case.

So the proximity of any lab to the Huanan market is most likely irrelevant in the true timeline of the outbreak's beginning.

So the claim about the WHCDC being there may be true, but not everyone seems to agree that it is relevant.

Botao's paper also advanced as an alternative hypothesis that the virus may have escaped from another facility in Wuhan as:

The second laboratory was ~12 kilometers from the seafood market and belonged to Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. This laboratory reported that the Chinese horseshoe bats were natural reservoirs for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) which caused the 2002-3 pandemic. The principle investigator participated in a project which generated a chimeric virus using the SARS-CoV reverse genetics system, and reported the potential for human emergence. A direct speculation was that SARS-CoV or its derivative might leak from the laboratory.

In summary, somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus.

Regarding the latter claim, the BI article says:

After her team sequenced the COVID-19 virus, Shi told Scientific American that she quickly checked her laboratory's record from the past few years to check for accidents, especially during disposal. Then she cross-referenced the new coronavirus' genome with the genetic information of other bat coronaviruses her team had collected. They didn't match.

"That really took a load off my mind," she told Scientific American in March, adding: "I had not slept a wink for days."

So there's no direct evidence of the Covid-19 virus being seen in a Chinese lab before. But of course, if you think it's a coverup or that it came from a bat in one of those labs, even though no lab bat is known to having carried the Covid-19 virus (prior to the outbreak--they might have tested in one in the meantime)... time will tell if this hypothesis (i.e. Covid-19 came from a Wuhan lab bat) is true or not.

And yeah, one the correlations side, the/a reason why this q was posted here today (despite the original claim being months old), might have something to do with Apr 15 news...

Donald Trump has fuelled a media theory that the coronavirus pandemic began when the pathogen accidentally escaped a Chinese laboratory, teasing that “more and more we’re hearing the story”.

The US president’s TV network of choice, Fox News, has reported that “multiple sources” in the American government believe initial transmission of the virus was bat-to-human in a virology lab in Wuhan. Due to weak safety protocols, an infected lab worker then went to a wet market where the virus spread [US gov't sources believe].

And if Trump wasn't too explicit Pompeo was

"What we do know is we know that this virus originated in Wuhan, China," Pompeo told "The Story". "We know there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was. There is still lots to learn. The United States government is working diligently to figure it out."

So if you don't want to take China's word for it, wait for the US gov't investigation to complete.

Meanwhile, the French, who were involved in building the BSL-4 in Wuhan have said

France said on Friday there was no evidence so far of a link between the new coronavirus and the work of the P4 research laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the current pandemic started.

“We would like to make it clear that there is to this day no factual evidence corroborating the information recently circulating in the United States press that establishes a link between the origins of COVID-19 and the work of the P4 laboratory of Wuhan, China,” an official at President Emmanuel Macron’s office said. [...]

In 2004, France signed an agreement with China to establish a research lab on infectious diseases of biosafety level 4, the highest level, in Wuhan, according to a French decree signed by then-foreign minister Michel Barnier.

Also, the (implicit) claim that this virus came to us "straight" from bats may not be true either:

In early January 2020, Chinese scientists sequenced the entire genome for SARS-CoV-2 and published it online. Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China compared its genome to a library of known viruses — and found a 96% match with coronavirus samples taken from horseshoe bats from Yunnan.

"But that 4% difference is actually a pretty wide distance in evolutionary time. It could even be decades," says Dr. Robert F. Garry, professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane University School of Medicine.

That extra 4% suggests the SARS-CoV-2 may not have evolved from bats alone, but may include viral material from another animal. In that case, the virus would have continued to evolve through natural selection in that animal. Moreover, that other animal may have acted as an "intermediate host," ultimately transmitting the virus to humans.

And in more detail on how close SARS-CoV-2 is to any known (bat) viruses:

Although RaTG13, sampled from a Rhinolophus affinis bat, is ~96% identical overall to SARS-CoV-2, its spike diverges in the RBD, which suggests that it may not bind efficiently to human ACE2. [...]

Although the RaTG13 bat virus remains the closest to SARS-CoV-2 across the genome, some pangolin coronaviruses exhibit strong similarity to SARS-CoV-2 in the RBD, including all six key RBD residues.

Neither the bat betacoronaviruses nor the pangolin betacoronaviruses sampled thus far have polybasic cleavage sites [unlike SARS-CoV2]. Although no animal coronavirus has been identified that is sufficiently similar to have served as the direct progenitor of SARS-CoV-2, the diversity of coronaviruses in bats and other species is massively undersampled. [...]

Retrospective serological studies could also be informative, and a few such studies have been conducted showing low-level exposures to SARS-CoV-like coronaviruses in certain areas of China. Critically, however, these studies could not have distinguished whether exposures were due to prior infections with SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 or other SARS-CoV-like coronaviruses. Further serological studies should be conducted to determine the extent of prior human exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

While everyone is going to have their own opinion on the level of Chinese cover up in this (Covid-19 case), they did release a few details on the investigation in a 2004 incident when SARS "broke out" of a Beijing lab.

  • 2
    It took a while till there was direct evidence that the direct evidence that the anthrax from the attacks of 2002 came from an US lab. Whether or not a Chinese lab had hosted bats with SARS-COV-2 you wouldn't expect that information to be public at this point in time. It's well documented China isn't a country where there's freedom of press and that the do spend effort to shape public opinion and cover up information that's not benefitial to them by stories that are in the public record like that of Li Wenliang. Them reporting very often 0 cases also indicates taht they cover up information.
    – Christian
    Apr 16, 2020 at 12:38
  • And the Sun has taboidish (of course) piece on Tian thesun.co.uk/news/11307835/… Apr 16, 2020 at 14:04
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    FWIW, the site we are talking about is the primary contact address listed by the Wuhan CDC on its website (whcdc.org/show/44.html), and the distance of ~280 meters as the crow flies from the market reported by Xiao et al. is accurate.
    – Colin
    Apr 16, 2020 at 20:01
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    "So if you don't want to take China's word for it, wait for the US gov't investigation to complete." Because the US Government is more trustworthy than the Chinese and never puts a spin on facts to serve their own agenda... Apr 23, 2020 at 9:46

To speak directly to your question: Was the Wuhan Center for Disease Control & Prevention hosting coronavirus-infected bats near the COVID-19 initial outbreak?

There is not sufficient basis to assert this.

Your question is based on the paper by Xiao and Xiao (now retracted). In this paper, it is asserted that

WHCDC [Wuhan Center for Disease Control] hosted animals in laboratories for research purpose


tissue samples and contaminated trashes ... were only ~280 meters from the seafood market

However, these assertions are not sustained by any of the references provided. The 3 papers Xiao and Xiao cite as evidence all have many coauthors, one of which is Tian Jun-Hua, of the WHCDC. Because of the number of coauthors, it is far from clear that the specimens used in those studies were stored or analyzed at the WHCDC. Furthermore, if specimen analysis for these studies was conducted at the WHCDC, there is nothing to demonstrate it would have been at this particular office near the Huanan Market.

Taking a step back from the paper, we do know that Tian is a collection specialist, and he evidently has a lab with animal specimens. An excellent propaganda documentary shows he works with tick and insect specimens, and takes samples from bats via catch-and-release. But we don't know the address of his lab, nor that bats are stored there, dead or alive. And, bottom line, no connection to the current coronavirus outbreak can be surmised.


To complement the existing answers, there is a highly informative documentary made on 2015 by Italian RAI television regarding the bat-based virii development at the Wuhan institute of Virology: Original link is still available from the TV website. The original version is in italian, but there is at least one version in youtube with english subtitles.

Certainly the odds of ever getting the real history of how patient zero became infected is nearly impossible given how the CCP has consistently worked to hide information, so it is not unlikely that future policy and diplomatic actions will have to rely on less-than-ideal verification or incomplete intelligence

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    I think this answer does not quite address the question, since it is about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, not the Wuhan CDC.
    – Colin
    Apr 17, 2020 at 19:02
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    There's no evidence SARS-CoV-2 was created by gain of function experiments. See biology.stackexchange.com/questions/90793/… So while those GOF experiments may be concerning to some (and they are done outside China as well), they don't seem to very relevant here. Apr 18, 2020 at 1:55
  • @Fizz interesting how you made "there is no evidence" sound like "they are not relevant". If we stick to talk to only that for which there is bulletproof evidence, that would be tantamount to effectively censoring all relevant information on the subject, since there is essentially no verifiable information at the moment
    – lurscher
    Apr 18, 2020 at 7:30
  • But it is ok, after all, any answer that puts the CCP in bad light is systematically downvoted in StackExchange, so I can't say I'm surprised
    – lurscher
    Apr 18, 2020 at 7:33
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    Let me make this more clear: GOF experiments are not relevant to this discussion because all evidence points to Covid-19 being naturally occurring. Yeah, despite that, one can still wonder (as the question-asker did) if Wuhan CDC etc. hasn't released some disease they didn't know about, e.g. via some infected lab animal/remains that they were unaware might be infected with something (a "something" they didn't even know existed anywhere the time). Apr 21, 2020 at 15:41

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