Last Friday, the US Department of State released a fact sheet detailing the supposed laboratory origin of COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, largely accusing China for culturing the pathogen and for its “deceit and disinformation” with the source and nature of the virus. China has denounced the fact sheet, calling it “conspiracy theory and lies.”
“The ideas and information in this so-called fact sheet are contradictory and full of mistakes. It cannot hold water,” said Hua Chunying, Foreign Ministry spokesperson at a press conference today. “Almost all top scientists and disease control experts in the world, including those from the United States, have openly rejected such theories.”
Hua also said that the assertions on the fact sheet did not surprise her, citing a pattern of deflecting responsibility.
“American politicians have been fumbling through their pandemic responses domestically while scapegoating and dumping blames internationally,” she said.
The “previously undisclosed information” on the fact sheet claims: several researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) had fallen ill in autumn 2019; since 2016, the WIV had been conducting studies on “RaTG13,” a “bat coronavirus” that is 96.2% similar to SARS-CoV-2; and “secret military activity” transpired at the WIV.
“The CCP’s deadly obsession with secrecy and control comes at the expense of public health in China and around the world,” the document stated, accusing China of muzzling WIV lab researchers and barring journalists, investigators, and health authorities from interviewing them.
The fact sheet claimed that WIV has become a centrepiece in international coronavirus research following the 2003 SARS outbreak and the institute has since studied mice, bats, and pangolins.
“The WIV has a published record of conducting “gain-of-function” research to engineer chimeric viruses,” the document said. “But the WIV has not been transparent or consistent about its record of studying viruses most similar to the COVID-19 virus, including “RaTG13.”
According to the Department of State, the WIV sampled RaTG13 from a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013, after miners died from a SARS-like ailment. The US government also claims that the WIV had altered and then deleted online records of its work with RaTG13 and other viruses.
“Secrecy and non-disclosure are standard practice for Beijing,” the statement read, citing the US government’s past publicly raised concerns over so-called biological weapons coming from China.
The US government also claimed that “despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution,” the institute has conducted covert projects with the Chinese military.
“The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017,” the fact sheet stated.
Three days before the fact sheet release, the Daily Mail had reported that outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was prepared to make a “bombshell intervention” by releasing “evidence” supporting the theory that COVID-19 leaked from the WIV. He was also expected to assert the World Health Organization’s alleged culpability in a Chinese cover-up in its refusal to investigate the role of the WIV.
In response to Pompeo’s slew of tweets against China, Hua said, “Pompeo’s ‘Lying Diplomacy’ has not only bankrupted his own reputation but also rendered irreversible damage to the national image and interests of the United States.”
The WHO, however, has deployed a global team of researchers to Wuhan to inquire about the origin of COVID-19. The Associated Press reported that an international investigation team had arrived in Wuhan last Thursday and would be working with Chinese scientists via video conference while under 14-day quarantine.
The WIV is a possible but not yet confirmed subject of investigation for the WHO’s investigators. According to an investigation by the Associated Press, state-imposed controls on research into the COVID-19 outbreak prohibit scientists from speaking to reporters.
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