Amid the debate over the origin of coronavirus, the former chief of British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), commonly known as MI6 has made a startling claim by saying that the virus may have "started as an accident" after it escaped from a Chinese lab. The claim by Sir Richard Dearlove, the ex-MI6 chief, was based on a new study by British and Norwegian researchers on the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 3.85 lakh people across the world.

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like.Credit: NIAID-RML

"I do think that this started as an accident," Sir Richard said in an interview with The Telegraph, adding that "It raises the issue, if China ever were to admit responsibility, does it pay reparations? I think it will make every country in the world rethink how it treats its relationship with China and how the international community behaves towards the Chinese leadership."

Claim based on new research

The study on the origin of coronavirus cited by the former SIS chief was produced by the University of London professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian virologist Birger Sorensen. In their research, they have claimed to identify "inserted sections placed on the SARS-CoV-2 Spike surface" which was significantly different from any other SARS.

Sir Richard termed the new research as "a very important contribution to a debate which is now starting about how the virus evolved and how it got out and broke out as a pandemic". He said that the new research will shift the debate.

Interestingly, US President Donald Trump has also blamed China for the spread of coronavirus pandemic. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo even claimed to have "evidence" that the virus was man-made.

What are scientists saying about the origin of coronavirus?

The claim by the former MI6 chief, however, has not been endorsed by scientists. As of now, experts believe that the virus originated from bats and spread to humans through an intermediary animal. It is also said that it spread from a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. However, China has so far failed to find the patient zero, which could be the key to find its origin.