CHINA'S "bat woman" has slammed claims that Covid leaked from her Wuhan lab.
Virologist Shi Zhengli said the theory was baseless and accused the world of "trying to pour filth on me".
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Circumstantial evidence linking the virus' origins to the Wuhan Institute of Virology - which was probing bat coronaviruses - is mounting.
Covid may have escaped by a researcher getting infected, improperly disposed of waste, or potential breaches in the security at the lab.
US spies are probing claims that the virus may have somehow escaped and gone to the infect the world - so far killing 3.8million people.
China denies the lab leak and all wrongdoing over its handling of the initial Covid outbreak in December 2019.
And Dr Zhengli has furiously denied all allegations against her and the lab - accusing the world of "pouring filth on an innocent scientist".
The researcher - known as "bat woman" for her work - gave a rare interview to The New York Times.
She denied everything and said there was "no evidence" the virus leaked from a lab.
The scientist said: "How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?
"I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist."
Dr Shi also denied carrying out gain of function experiments - tests to make viruses more infectious - which are widely reported to have occurred at the lab.
And she also hit back at claims that WIV staff had become sick with Covid-like symptoms in November 2019, saying: "If possible, can you provide the names of the three to help us check."
China has long been accused of covering up or distorting its role in the early days of the pandemic, with claims the Communist Party manipulated case and death figures while withholding information from WHO.
Beijing has a history of lab leaks in which deadly viruses have accidentally escaped and critics have highlighted what they allege is a gung-ho approach to safety.
There is currently no evidence to suggest the virus was intentionally released by China.
But a bombshell video suggests live bats were kept at the Wuhan lab at the centre of the Covid leak storm and were hand fed by scientists.
What do we know about the Wuhan Institute of Virology?
THE WUHAN Institute of Virology is the highest security lab of its kind in all of China - and can be found right at the heart of the origins of the global pandemic
Various theories have been swirling about the lab, which is headed up by Chinese scientist Dr Shi Zhengli, known as “Bat Woman”.
Most scientists do not believe the virus leaked from the lab, and the lab itself has categorically denied the claims.
The lab specialised in bat-borne viruses and had been carrying out experiences on them since 2015.
Airlocks, full body suits, and chemical showers are required before entering and leaving the lab - the first in China to be accredited with biosafety level 4 (BSL-4).
BSL-4 labs are the only places in the world where scientists can study diseases that have no cure.
Scientists from the lab even tested mysterious
virus which killed three miners 1,000 miles away in Yunnan province back in 2012.
It has been suggested this fatal mystery bug may have been the true origin of Covid-19.
Experts at the lab also engineered a new type of hybrid 'super-virus' that can infect humans in 2015, according to medical journal Nature Medicine
Despite fears surrounding the research, the study was designed to show the risk of viruses carried by bats which could be transmitted to humans.
There is no suggestion the facility's 2015 work is linked to the pandemic.
The lab was also recruiting new scientists to probe coronaviruses in bats just seven days before the outbreak.
China has began tightening security around its biolabs with President Xi Jinping saying it was a “national security” issue to improve scientific safety at a meeting last February.
Footage appears to show bats being held at the WIV despite denials by a World Health Organisation (WHO) scientist.
Video released by Sky News Australia from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) shows live bats being held in a cage at the bio lab four years ago.
It also shows a scientist hand feeding a worm to one of the creatures - which are believed to be the natural reservoir of Covid.
Dr Peter Daszak, who worked on a much derided WHO investigation team looking into the origins of Covid, previously claimed there were no live bats at the lab.
He is president of the EcoHealth Alliance - a US-based organisation which funnelled government funding to WIV for experiments on coronviruses.
The researcher has long attempted to downplay the possibility of a lab leak, and was a key figure in attempting to have it dismissed as a "conspiracy theory".
"No BATS were sent to Wuhan lab for genetic analysis of viruses collected in the field," Dr Daszak wrote on Twitter in December.
"That’s not how this science works. We collect bat samples, send them to the lab. We RELEASE bats where we catch them.
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"This is a widely circulated conspiracy theory. This piece describes work I’m the lead on and labs I’ve collaborated with for 15 years.
"They DO NOT have live or dead bats in them. There is no evidence anywhere that this happened. It’s an error I hope will be corrected."