Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping on Feb. 14 told an emergency meeting in Beijing that a national system to control biosecurity risks was needed “to protect the people’s health.”
Xi called lab security a “national security issue.”
While not actually admitting that the deadly coronavirus that is devastating large swathes of China had escaped from one of the country’s bioresearch labs, “evidence emerged suggesting that this is exactly what happened,” Steven W. Mosher wrote in an analysis for the New York Post on Feb. 22.
Mosher is president of the Population Research Institute and author of “Bully of Asia: Why China’s ‘Dream’ is the New Threat to World Order”.
Soon after Xi’s Feb. 14 comments, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology released a new directive entitled: “Instructions on strengthening biosecurity management in microbiology labs that handle advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus.”
Mosher noted that “It sure sounds like China has a problem keeping dangerous pathogens in test tubes where they belong, doesn’t it? And just how many ‘microbiology labs’ are there in China that handle ‘advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus?’ ”
In all of China there is only one such facility. It is located in the city of Wuhan “that just happens to be . . . the epicenter of the epidemic,” Mosher noted.
Related: Seafood? New Wuhan animal virus said tied to China’s bio-warfare program, January 28, 2020
China’s only Level 4 microbiology lab that is equipped to handle deadly coronaviruses, called the National Biosafety Laboratory, is part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
At the end of January, China dispatched Maj. Gen. Chen Wei, the People’s Liberation Army’s top expert in biological warfare, to Wuhan to help with the effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
“Does that suggest to you that the novel coronavirus, now known as SARS-CoV-2, may have escaped from that very lab, and that Gen. Chen’s job is to try and put the genie back in the bottle, as it were? It does to me,” Mosher wrote.
“And then there is this little-known fact: Some Chinese researchers are in the habit of selling their laboratory animals to street vendors after they have finished experimenting on them.”
Mosher continued: “Instead of properly disposing of infected animals by cremation, as the law requires, they sell them on the side to make a little extra cash. Or, in some cases, a lot of extra cash. One Beijing researcher, now in jail, made a million dollars selling his monkeys and rats on the live animal market, where they eventually wound up in someone’s stomach.”
Chinese authorities first blamed the initial spread of the coronavirus on a seafood market not far from the Institute of Virology, even though the first documented cases of Covid-19 (the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2) involved people who had never set foot there. “Then they pointed to snakes, bats and even a cute little scaly anteater called a pangolin as the source of the virus,” Mosher noted.
“It turns out that snakes don’t carry coronaviruses and that bats aren’t sold at a seafood market. Neither are pangolins, for that matter, an endangered species valued for their scales as much as for their meat,” Mosher wrote.
The evidence, Mosher continued, “points to SARS-CoV-2 research being carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The virus may have been carried out of the lab by an infected worker or crossed over into humans when they unknowingly dined on a lab animal. Whatever the vector, Beijing authorities are now clearly scrambling to correct the serious problems with the way their labs handle deadly pathogens.”
China “has unleashed a plague on its own people. It’s too early to say how many in China and other countries will ultimately die for the failures of their country’s state-run microbiology labs, but the human cost will be high,” Mosher wrote.
Meanwhile, Iran and Russia, two of China’s top allies, are taking drastic measures to keep the virus from devastating their nations.
Iran on Saturday ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centers after the coronavirus killed six people in the country, AFP reported.
The COVID-19 outbreak in Iran first surfaced on Wednesday, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shi’ite holy city south of Teheran. They were the first confirmed deaths from the virus in the Middle East. Iran reported two more deaths on Friday.
The latest cases take to 28 the total number of confirmed infections in Iran.
On Friday, the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in Lebanon, after the virus was found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled to Lebanon from Qom.
As a “preventive measure”, Iranian authorities on Saturday ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across the country from Sunday, state television reported.
They include Qom, Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamedan, Alborz, Semnan, Kurdistan and the capital, Tehran.
In Moscow, Russian officials have ordered police raids of hotels, dormitories, apartment buildings and businesses to track down Chinese people remaining in the city, The Associated Press reported. They also authorized the use of facial recognition technology to find those suspected of evading a 14-day self-quarantine period upon their arrival in Russia.
“Conducting raids is an unpleasant task, but it is necessary, for the potential carriers of the virus as well,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said in a statement outlining various methods to find and track Chinese people the city approved as a virus prevention strategy.
Metro workers were instructed to stop riders from China and ask them to fill out questionnaires asking why they were in Russia and whether they observed the two-week quarantine, the report said. The forms also ask respondents for their health condition and the address of where they were staying.
In Yekaterinburg, a city located 1,790 kilometers (1,112 miles) away from Moscow in the Urals Mountains, members of the local Chinese community also are under watch. Self-styled Cossack patrols in the city hand out medical masks along with strong recommendations to visit a health clinic to Chinese residents, the AP report said.
The Russian government instituted an indefinite ban on Chinese nationals entering the country that could block up to 90 percent of travelers coming to Russia from China. Weeks before, Russia shut down the country’s long land border with China, suspended all trains and most flights between the two countries.