In [a video released by the Chinese government,] researchers scale [a] cavern wall, their headlamps ghostly blue.
“If our skin is exposed, it can easily come in contact with bat excrement and contaminated matter, which means this is quite risky,” says Tian Junhua, one of the bat hunters. “We have to live for several days in the cave . . .” he continues, as the soundtrack amps up the drama. “There’s no cellphone signal, no supplies. It’s truly scary.”
The video was released by national science authorities and Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Dec. 10, 2019, and circulated on social media. It’s a high-quality production, designed to promote China’s world-leading viral research. Aired around the time Wuhan residents began turning up at hospitals with mysterious respiratory ailments, it also offers a rare glimpse of field conditions on the eve of the pandemic.
According to a World Health Organization report released in March, the Wuhan CDC denied any storage or laboratory activities involving bat viruses before the coronavirus outbreak — a stance hard to reconcile with Tian’s boasts in the video about having visited dozens of bat caves and studied 300 types of virus vectors.
Tian has not spoken publicly for more than a year.