Chen, also a leading specialist in genetic engineering vaccines in China, developed a medical spray during the SARS outbreak in 2003. The product prevented around 14,000 medical workers from contracting the virus, said another state-media report.

She is also known in the country as the ‘terminator of Ebola’ for leading a team to create a vaccine against the fatal virus.

Speaking of fighting the novel coronavirus, Chen said: ‘The epidemic is like a military situation. The epicentre equals to the battlefield.’

Although China’s official media had little information on where Chen was working from in Wuhan, Radio France Internationale last Saturday claimed that she had already taken the leadership of Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The lab opened in November, 2018, and is classified as P4, the highest level in bio-safety.

The report cited a post on Chinese forum Douban as its source and claimed that the move revealed the possible relation between the lab and the army.

‘This kind of connection shows that the previous [speculation] suggesting that the Chinese troops were developing biological weapons in Wuhan P4 did not come out of thin air,’ it said………

The claims came from a report by The Washington Times, citing a former Israeli military intelligence officer named Dany Shoham. It suggested that the coronavirus originated in the lab which was engaging in a biowarfare programme.

Chinese authorities have denied the allegations.

Shi Zhengli, a director at Wuhan Institute of Virology, said earlier this month: ‘The 2019 novel coronavirus is nature’s punishment for humans’ uncivilised life habits. I, Shi Zhengli, use my life to guarantee, [the virus] has no relation with the lab.’

Shi urged the Chinese authorities to launch an official investigation into the matter.

She told Chinese news outlet Caixin: ‘Conspiracy theorists don’t believe in science. I hope our country’s professional departments can come to investigate and prove our innocence.’