First step in global virus origin tracing should be in US

By Yao Kun
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 23, 2021
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Contrary to his previous statements, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference recently that investigations into the origins of COVID-19 in China were being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of spread there.

In response, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on July 16 that China showed raw data that requires special attention item by item when the joint mission was conducting the origins study in China.

From Jan. 14 to Feb. 10, a joint mission comprising of 17 Chinese and 17 international experts conducted a 28-day study into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan. The list of international experts was formulated solely by the WHO. As scientists, they are independent and also highly representative as they came from more than 10 countries and international institutions such as the WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Since terms of reference were agreed in July 2020, the Chinese experts started collecting data needed for the study. The Chinese government organized hundreds of scientists in the collection, sorting and initial analysis of related information. As for raw data requiring special attention, China showed it to the joint mission item by item. The experts fully discussed the data analysis approach and interim results, improved the analysis framework, reanalyzed the data and provided renewed results.

The joint mission conducted on-site visits to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as well as the Hubei provincial and Wuhan centers for disease control and prevention, learning about laboratory management and operation procedures. They communicated with experts working there and carried out serological tests on relevant staff members, with all samples coming back as negative.

All this proves that the claim that "getting access to raw data had been a challenge" is totally groundless. The experts of the joint mission, whether from China or other countries, had equal access to the data. They made their own decisions independently as to where they would like to visit, who they would like to talk to and what they would like to talk about as the field work proceeded. The study report was also drafted by the mission independently. As an authoritative institution in global public health, the WHO should respect science and uphold the authority of the report.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, some forces led by the U.S. have politicized origin tracing, unscrupulously smearing and attacking China in disregard of science and the facts.

However, in terms of COVID-19 origin tracing, the U.S. has many questions it needs to answer.

One example would be the shutdown of Fort Detrick in July 2019 and a vaping illness outbreak which swept across several states around the same time. A report by ABC News on July 12 stated that two people died and 54 fell ill after a respiratory outbreak at a Virginia retirement community merely an hour's drive from Fort Detrick.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that emergency department visits related to e-cigarettes surged in August 2019 and peaked in September, and as of Feb. 18, 2020, a total of 2,807 hospitalized e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury cases or deaths were reported to the CDC.

At the time, CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta said that e-cigarettes had been around in the country since 2017 but "we haven't heard of these mysterious illnesses before now."

The lab, previously the CIA's base for chemical and mind control experiments, has yet more to clarify.

According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, the words "Biological Warfare Laboratories, Fort Detrick, Frederick, Maryland," were written on the cover of three reports of Unit 731's human experiments, and Fort Detrick has lots of viruses of grave threat to human safety in storage, alongside having many hidden security risks and loopholes.

The international community has a slew of concerns about the opaque, unsafe and unreasonable moves of U.S. bio-labs. What does the U.S. military do there? Why is the U.S. the only country standing in the way of negotiations for a Biological Weapons Convention verification protocol? Are its labs and bases afraid of international verification?

However, the U.S. has given no clear response so far. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stressed as early as Jan. 18 that if the U.S. truly respects facts, it should open Fort Detrick, give more transparency to its 200-plus overseas bio-labs and invite WHO experts over for origin tracing.

China supports the WHO in global origin tracing, but the efforts should go beyond China to all labs including Fort Detrick. Now that the U.S. is hanging onto the "lab leak" theory, it should invite WHO experts to conduct investigations like China did, open Fort Detrick and its other bio-labs worldwide, and disclose data on the vaping illness cases, all as soon as possible, and should respond to the international community's concerns through action.

Yao Kun is deputy director of the Institute of World Political Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

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