New US intel says China prevented thorough probe into COVID-19's origin
This photo shows an aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 17, 2020.
AFP/Hector Retamal

New US intel says China prevented thorough probe into COVID-19's origin

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - January 18, 2021 - 6:21pm

MANILA, Philippines — The US state department released new information detailing activities at a virology institute in Wuhan, saying Beijing "systematically prevented" a transparent probe on the still unknown origin of the coronavirus a year since it hit the world and infected and killed millions.

A January 15 fact sheet said Washington "has reason to believe" that researchers in the institute became sick in autumn 2019, with symptoms matching the COVID-19 even before the first identified case of the outbreak.

"This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli's public claim that there was 'zero infection' among the WIV's staff and students of SARS-CoV2 or SARS-related viruses," the department said.

The state department's report came as World Health Organization researchers arrived in Wuhan in a bid to find clues on where it came from.

Authorities in the Chinese city first reported pneumonia-like cases a day before 2019 ended, and later on identified it from a novel coronavirus.

By March of the following year, the disease caused by the deadly virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, sending nations in lockdown, overwhelming health care systems and plunging economies into recession.

China has since faced pressure from the international community on the virus' origins, including its handling of the public health crisis at home that eventually spread to the rest of the world.

US state officials said China had shunned global health authorities and journalists among others from interviewing researchers at the institute, including those who fell ill in late-2019.

The WIV has also not been transparent on its studies of viruses similar to the COVID-19, including the "RaTG13" or the bat coronavirus the institute had been conducting experiments on as early as 2016.

"WHO investigators must have access to the records of the WIV's work on bat and other coronaviruses before the COVID-19 outbreak," the fact sheet continued. "As part of a thorough inquiry, they must have a full accounting of why the WIV altered and then removed online records of its work with RaTG13 and other viruses."

The outgoing Trump administration has significantly pinned the blame on China for the pandemic, but its own officials had undermined health standards in place to prevent the virus' transmission and its response widely criticized.

US President Donald Trump, who himself contracted the COVID-19, had admitted that he deliberately downplayed the threat of the virus. As he steps down from power in two days, he leaves a record of America having the most infections in the world at over 23.96 million and deaths nearing 400,000.

The state department's fact sheet also touched on the WIV's "secret military activity" despite presenting it as being a civilian institution.

"[It] has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017," it said.

Officials added that the US including other donors who funded civilian research at the institute "have a right and obligation to determine whether any of our research funding was diverted to secret military Chinese projects at the WIV."

"Today’s revelations just scratch the surface of what is still hidden about COVID-19’s origin in China," the department said. "Any credible investigation into the origin of COVID-19 demands complete, transparent access to the research labs in Wuhan, including their facilities, samples, personnel, and records."

Vaccination through emergency use approvals are underway in several countries across the globe, including the US, the United Kingdom and Singapore.

By January 8, a global tracker has reported that 12.5 billion doses are already reserved despite no official jabs out yet in the market.

The race to secure vaccines has highlighted the gap and inequality to access among countries. High-income nations, for one, are sure of 4.2 billion doses, upper middle-income with 1.2 billion, while lower middle-income will have only 495 million doses. 

And while progress on vaccines are a significant development, the world now also faces the threat of a new variant of the COVID-19, which is feared to be more infectious and has since spread to various countries. — with reports from Agence France Presse

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 15, 2021 - 6:49pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

May 15, 2021 - 6:49pm

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 3,359,726 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

At least 161,795,290 cases of coronavirus have been registered. The vast majority have recovered, though some have continued to experience symptoms weeks or even months later.

These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organizations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

May 15, 2021 - 3:27pm

Taiwan orders stricter social distancing measures for its capital and surrounding areas on Saturday after a sudden spike in coronavirus cases in a place that has so far weathered the pandemic comparatively unscathed.

Authorities raised the alert level for Taipei and New Taipei City after 180 new domestic coronavirus infections were confirmed, up from 29 cases the previous day.

The new restrictions mean no more than five people can gather indoors and 10 outdoors -- but authorities stopped short of ordering a total lockdown. — AFP

May 14, 2021 - 9:00am

The top US health agency on Thursday said it was lifting mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a watershed moment that President Joe Biden called "a great day" in the long pandemic fight.

The announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) marked an abrupt turnaround after more than a year of urging people to cover their faces to stem the spread.

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing.

"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic." — AFP

May 13, 2021 - 3:30pm

At the peak of Kenya's third wave of COVID-19 in March, hospitals — buckling under the strain of the virus — saw their oxygen reserves fizzle out. 

Since then, they have been scrambling to increase capacity of the lifesaving element, fearing the nightmare scenario currently unfolding in India due to oxygen shortages.

On the roof of the Metropolitan Hospital, a 150-bed private institution that targets the middle class, a brand-new oxygen production unit has just been installed that is capable of producing up to 600 liters of the gas per minute.

Metropolitan CEO Kanyenje Gakombe said the hospital accelerated plans to produce its own oxygen after supplies were squeezed to the limit during the height of the third wave, fanned by the variants of the coronavirus first detected in Britain and South Africa.

In April Kenya registered a record 571 deaths, and the health ministry warned hospitals were overrun with fewer than 300 patients in the Intensive Care Unit and fewer than 2,000 hospitalised countrywide. — AFP

May 12, 2021 - 6:19pm

The catastrophic scale of the Covid-19 pandemic could have been prevented had the warning signs been heeded, the global panel investigating the world's coronavirus response concluded Wednesday.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response blamed a "toxic cocktail" of dithering and poor coordination, said the World Health Organization could have sounded the alarm sooner, and urged rich countries to donate one billion vaccine doses by September, in its long-awaited final report. —  AFP

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