Inside the Chinese lab central to the search for the coronavirus’ origin

The institute is the focus of speculation and conspiracy theories — some emanating from the White House — about whether the virus leaked from the facility.

WUHAN, China — Cloistered off a major thoroughfare, the Wuhan Institute of Virology could pass for a college campus, its red brick buildings distinguishable from their busy surroundings only by a long, imposing driveway lined with cameras, with a security guard standing sentry.

On the neatly manicured grounds beside a small man-made lake is a newer structure with silver sidings and few windows. This, the institute’s BSL-4 lab — the first in China to receive the highest level of biosafety clearance — stands at the center of an international firestorm of recrimination over China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, NBC News became the first foreign news organization to be granted access to the institute since the outbreak began, meeting with senior scientists working to pinpoint the origins of the virus. The Wuhan institute and its scientists have become the focus of intense speculation and conspiracy theories — some emanating from the White House — about China’s alleged efforts to downplay the outbreak’s severity and whether the virus leaked from the facility.

During the roughly five-hour visit, which included a tour of the BSL-4 lab, where technicians clad in bubblelike protective suits handled small vials and other equipment while sealed inside a thick-walled glass enclosure, Wang Yanyi, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said she and others felt unfairly targeted. She urged that politics not cloud investigations into how the coronavirus spilled over into humans.

Read more