A masked passenger walks in front of Wuhan Station before the city is locked down on January 23. Photo: Xinhua

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A Wuhan lab affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences has sought to dispel rumors that it “made and leaked” the highly infectious pneumonic virus that led to the still-raging global outbreak. While Chinese President Xi Jinping was briefed about the public health threat by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) in early January, the government decided against sounding the alarm because it did not want to “mar the festive vibe” during the Lunar New Year celebrations.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in the provincial capital of Hubei, which is the ground zero of the contagion, has been thrust into the media spotlight by the allegation last week that it leaked “bio-hazardous agents.”

Posts circulating on WeChat and Weibo claim that a researcher at the institute was the first to be infected by the novel coronavirus, now called Covid-19 by the World Health Organization.

The female virologist and a graduate from the institute, referred to as “patient zero,” had never visited the city’s shambolic wet market – also known as the “zoo” – where a range of wild animals were sold. The market has been identified by the authorities as the most probable source of the deadly pathogen.

In a statement released on Sunday, the lab stressed that the researcher had left the city in 2015 and was in good health, refusing to release more information about her for privacy reasons.

A rumor that the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Wuhan Institute of Virology could have leaked the virus is circulating. Photos: Xinhua

The institute is said to be the nation’s only Biological Security Level 4-certified lab, the highest level in the hierarchy of biosafety and biocontainment procedures codified by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The Wuhan lab has the equipment and staff to handle the most infectious viruses, including Ebola.

Shi Zhengli, the institute’s lead researcher on bat-related viruses, said on her social media account that she “guaranteed with her own life” that the outbreak had nothing to do with the lab but was a “nemesis for the barbaric habits and lifestyle of some people – like eating wild game including bats.”

Shi’s team said at the end of January, when the acute respiratory disease started to strike down more people in Wuhan and the rest of Hubei, that bats could have been the initial host of the coronavirus and SARS virus. Shi also heads an expert panel advising the Hubei provincial government in the battle against the epidemic.

Patients line up in an outpatient department at a hospital in Wuhan. Photo: WeChat
A woman wears a face mask as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, as she watches a race during the Hong Kong Gold Cup at the Sha Tin racecourse on February 16, 2020. Photo: AFP

Richard Ebright, a biology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told the BBC that genomic sequencing of the coronavirus showed no proof that it had been artificially modified, yet he could not rule out the possibility that the unfolding pandemic could be the result of a “lab incident.”

Ebright said the coronavirus was a cousin of one found in bats captured by the institute in caves in the southwestern province of Yunnan in 2003, and that samples had been kept in the Wuhan lab since 2013.

Also, a paper that appeared in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet at the end of last month has lent credibility to speculation about the origins of the virus. The paper quoted seven doctors at Wuhan’s Jinyintan Hospital as saying that the first patient admitted on December 1 had “never been to the wet market,” nor had there been any epidemiological link between the first patient and subsequent infection cases, based on the data from the first 41 patients treated there.

Furthermore, a note from the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology is seen as a tacit admission that some kind of incident may have occurred at the Wuhan lab.

On Saturday, the ministry issued a directive mandating more stringent handling of viruses and bioagents by all labs and research institutes. The document alluded to the slack oversight and management rampant at some facilities, and stressed that protection and decontamination must be beefed up now that more labs across the nation are intensifying their efforts to develop medicines to treat it and a vaccine to prevent it.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Ming Pao daily reported on Monday that the CCDC had sounded the alarm in a report on the emerging SARS-like outbreak submitted to the top leadership in early January. However, curbing the spread was not at the top of the agenda when Xi and other members of the party’s upper echelon sat down for a Politburo meeting on January 7. Citing its source, the broadsheet said top leaders were opposed to any contingency measures “that may mar the festive vibe and make the public panic.”

In a move seen as a bid to highlight Xi’s early involvement in combating the outbreak, state media revealed on Sunday that the president “gave specific instructions” to contain the spread in the January 7 meeting, amid people’s simmering exasperation with the state and local cadres’ tardy response to the public health crisis that has made more than 70,000 sick across the country as of Monday afternoon.

Gao Fu, chief of China’s CCDC. Photo: Xinhua

And even though the CCDC alerted Xi early on, its chief, Gao Fu, is still under fire for his public assurances last month that people were not likely to become infected as a result of normal human contact. Calls are being made for Gao, a veterinarian by training, to step down.

Read more:

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Cadres, experts in quandary over virus and economy

Wuhan virus outbreak delays Xi’s trip to Japan

Anger as Wuhan virus kills whistleblower

Radical measures rolled out as Chinese cities battle virus

Gaffes and blame: cadres in virus-stricken Hubeic

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28 Comments

      1. War is generally bad for the economy, except arms dealers and grave diggers. Hint, we’ve always been under attack by communist. This includes a country with 2 billion mouths to feed. They also have a need for other resources too

  1. Coronavirus outbreak has many ceatures that it is a leak from Wuhan Bio Lab. China should own up responsibility and compensate victims within China and outside for loss of life and incomes.

    1. Not from Wuhan lab.check and investigate the biological germ warfare at outside the US territory eg.The new US lab at Bosnia develop covid19 by the army reported by Russia.

  2. Unfortunately, people are constantly searching for a fault in Chinese ways and research facilities as cause for the Covid-19 epidemic. Meanwhile the first 9 cases were all from the wet market. Also notice that it was not known right away that the virus spreads from person to person via aerosols (vapor from exhaled breath). All that became apparent only some time after the first cases manifested signs of a novel Corona virus. In light of these facts it is perfectly understandable that Xi opted for a delay so as no to mar people’s Lunar new year break, which is the most important vacation in China. It is also true that as soon as the virus became more epidemic-like, Xi did take measures to reduce transmission. The real problem with the epidemic in Wuhan is the high population density in the city. It creates a bit like a reservoir of virus that then affects way more people than in less populated areas with fewer sick people.

    People want to find a culprit to vent their fear and anger, that is natural. But there may not be a clear cut culprit. Mistakes are made at the beginning of all large epidemics, simply because much has to be learned at that stage in order to take the right precautions. Don’t forget that Wuhan now hospitalizes some 74’000 people and that no city has such a large extra capacity upfront. By necessity there were delays as more hospitals had to be created. China under Xi’s governance did a fantastic job to produce so many facilities. Because of these limitations, lightly affected people were not hospitalized and treated right away, which increased the number of severe cases and consequently the number of deaths. Now that all people get treated if they have a fever and cough, recoveries are way larger and death rates decrease.

    Such a learning curve and associated mistakes and material shortcomings exist in all epidemics just as they exist in all wars.

    To accuse Xi for all of these shortcomings is a grave injustice, designed at best by enemies of China to use the difficulties as a reason to condemn the Chinese system. Rest assured that the US wouldn’t do half as well if faced with such number of affected people. As a comparison, take influenza in the US: last year: 20m affected, around 13’000 deaths. It just isn’t talked about. This winter, at the height of the flu season in the US, the only vaccine doctors could offer had an effectiveness rate of 29%. It is only 3 days since pharmacies obtained a presumably more effective new vaccine. But these facts and shortcomings are never talked about, as if the USA was a priori perfect.

    1. You’re is the most sane comment here. China did the best that it could and continues to do more.
      What is the Truth as to how it got started ? Well that none of us will be certain to know. There are way too many angles to this situation requiring far better information than that which is available to the Public to come even close to the actual Truth.

    2. I must say, that looked so much like a media official response. One might even think that you are a spokes person for China Regula. Bottom line is if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck that there is a pretty good chance it isn’t a goose.

  3. In Feb 2003, Jiang Zemin as head of state and head of the China’s Military Commission has ordered Chen Zhu (Deputy Head of China’s Science Academy) to build Wuhan Institute of Virology, China’s only P4 lab. Chen Zhu studied in France and used his connections to obtain France’s help in building the Wuhan lab which began operating in 2015. Throughout the process of buiding and operation, the lab is under control of Jiang Zemin’s people.

    During Jiang’s rule, China’s Minister of Defense General Chi Haotian has delivered a speech to a select group of high level party cadres at a Conference on Future War Strategy in 2005. In that speech General Chi has expressed the use of bioweapons in a surprise attack against the US. Jiang Zemin had in mind what the building of the Wuhan P4 lab was for development of bioweapons. Readers are invited to study the speech for more details: https://jrnyquist.blog/2019/09/11/the-secret-speech-of-general-chi-haotian/?fbclid=IwAR0mbLEp6TjWRT4QzDu20b-AdYapYUp1ZdBxs-OhbBdeMn6ffcwL0xi3C7M

    There are two factions in chinese politics and bad blood between Jiang Zemin and Xi Jinping who launched a campaign of anti-corruption to weed out the party of Jiang’s henchmen. The corona virus epidemic must be seen in this context. Jiang’s people are believed to have released the virus in a plot to undermine Xi’s rule. The infighting threatens to tear the party apart and spell the end of the CCP.

  4. Some virologists have tried to debunk the suggestion that the coronavirus was bio-engineered, this commentary offers some perspective:

    “A full-genome evolutionary analysis of COVID-19 published in The Lancet concluded, “recombination is probably not the reason for emergence of this virus” since it seems that the Wuhan Strain isn’t a mosaic of previously known coronaviruses, but instead draws from distant, discrete parts of the coronavirus family tree – not how these viruses naturally evolve. Because even mixing and matching coronavirus genomes from every known mammal, scientists couldn’t find any possible combination that would explain those regions of the Wuhan Strain’s genome. The Lancet muses that a mysterious animal host could still be out there, however since they’ve already searched through every known possibility and been unable to find a match, another obvious explanation is that bio-engineering accounts for the inexplicable regions of the Wuhan Strain’s genome ”
    https://harvardtothebighouse.com/2020/01/31/logistical-and-technical-analysis-of-the-origins-of-the-wuhan-coronavirus-2019-ncov/

  5. Some people hate China and love the idea that it created the virus. Better to settle down, release your desperate prejudices, and wait for better information than something from “Harvard to the Big House” (“The Big House” is a slang term for prison — as well as the nickname of the University of Michigan’s football stadium.)

    If I were to veer off into conspiracies, I would follow the principle of “cui bono”: “Who benefits?” It’s certainly not China. The outbreak came at exactly the worst time of the year for China, when enormous numbers of people are jamming the trains to go home for New Year’s. The one entity that gains by this is the US, which is engaged in war against China by any means short of violence.

    I follow the vast majority of scientists in the field who have spoken so far in thinking that this arose naturally. But the small chances of the US being to blame are equal to those of the Wuhan lab being the source, it seems to me.

    1. “If I were to veer off into conspiracies, I would follow the principle of “cui bono”: “Who benefits?” It’s certainly not China. ”
      Exactly !!!

      Belt and Road, South China Sea, China’s presence in Africa ….etc are all reasons to “attack” it. The list is longer as to “Why?” do it.

  6. No reports of the COVID19 have been filed in Mexico, Central America, or South America. Yet cases exist in 24 other Countries. How can this be explained?

  7. Pitchforks and torches are coming out. No. Chinese are slaves. The culture teaches to be good. Never question the leadership.

  8. Everything is possible but I only have one question. How many cities in China? 662 cities of 50.000 people. Millions cities according western definition. How many lab P4 in China? Only one, and it’s in Wuhan.
    So my real question : what was the chance the virus began EXACTLY in the only city in China where there is P4 lab? 1 chance on 662, minimum…
    Really bad luck, isn’t it?

    1. But if I was to attack China I would do it exactly there for the reason you give, “But it must have been your error.”.

      See if you can find out where this comes from,
      “Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may
      transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”

      Some smart people in the Net managed to find this little gem so again, “Thank You Masters of the Universe for giving us the Internet.”

      1. Tom I never said your theory is wrong 😉
        The point was no matter the reason (leak from P4 lab, US weapon, alien invasion, etc) the chances are low Wuhan position is a pure concidence. Or more exactly there is only 1 chance on 662 that coronavirus began randomly exactly in same city where there is P4 lab…

    2. Almost every so-called pandemic came from a containment 4 lab – in the US, in Africa, in China, etc. C-4’s are where the most dangerous viruses are kept. PS: I read your great articles on activistpost and elsewhere.

  9. The very place where the corona virus started and the virus facility lab is right in the place of Wuhan which contain the SARS, EBOLA, HIV virus and what else. The corona virus had to come from this lab. Their is a massive cover up by the government and we are not being told the truth. Everyone who knows something is being taken away and kept quiet.

  10. Safety regulations are often not followed in China. That is unfortunately the reason why shit hits the fan from time to time there. That is also the same reason why a place where my friend lived had a massive explosion in a residential district that killed several hundred citizens a few years ago. A simple “oops” due to negligence that resulted in the loss of all those lives. The idea of another “oops” occurring in their lab would not surprise me. Cutting corners and not following procedures to the letter tend to do that.

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