China honors ‘Bat Woman’ of controversial Wuhan bio lab

China honoured a virologist of a controversial Wuhan-based bio-lab, which was at the centre of COVID-19 storm, as a WHO team arrived at the Chinese city to probe the origins of the coronavirus.

Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Institute of Virology who has earned the moniker of ”Bat Woman” for her passionate research into bats and viruses was honoured as an “advanced worker of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS),” the WIV announced on Friday.

The announcement came at the CAS 2021 annual work conference held in Beijing. Along with Ms. Zhengli 34 other people were honored.

Ms. Shi has been often been blamed for the pandemic as conspiracy theories claim that the novel coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 escaped from Shi’s lab in Wuhan.

During the peak of the pandemic last year even US President Donald Trump  promoted this conspiracy theory.

Shi responded in July that “Trump’s claim jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal lives. He owes us an apology.”

Shi has dedicated herself in the field of pathogen research of emerging infectious diseases in response to national needs since the 2003 SARS outbreak and identified “dozens of deadly SARS-like viruses in bat caves,” Chinese state media reported.

At the early stage of the outbreak in Wuhan, Shi led her team in completing nucleic acid detection, genome sequence determination, virus isolation and cultivation, serological identification and animal infection experiments in a short period of time, confirming that the pathogen causing the outbreak in Wuhan was a novel coronavirus.

On January 12, 2020, Shi and her team, on behalf of the WIV, together with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, took the lead in submitting the virus genome sequence to the WHO to be shared globally.

After the successful cultivation of the virus, Shi organized and coordinated the development of an inactivated vaccine with Sinopharm, which was the first inactivated vaccine to enter clinical test trials in the world.

So far, Shi has undertaken 55 scientific research projects of various kinds, including the National 973 Program, the National Science and Technology Major Program, the Science and Technology Fundamental Work Program, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences Strategic Priority Science and Technology Program, according to the WIV’s introduction.

Shi was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2019 and she has been named as advanced personnel in the anti-epidemic battle of Wuhan in October 2020.