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: July 27, 2021 - 7:42pm

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

July 27, 2021 - 7:42pm

Indonesia reports a record 2,069 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours Tuesday as the Southeast Asian nation faces its deadliest Covid-19 surge since the pandemic began.

Tuesday's grim tally was nearly 600 deaths higher than the previous day and topped last week's daily record 1,566 deaths, the health ministry says.

New infections also shot up to just over 45,000, from about 28,000 on Monday. — AFP

July 27, 2021 - 10:35am

Melbourne's coronavirus lockdown will be lifted late Tuesday, as authorities signalled a Delta variant outbreak in Australia's second-biggest city had been contained.

Neighboring South Australia state will also ease stay-at-home rules, but the country's largest city Sydney was facing a likely extension to a lockdown now in its fifth week.

After almost two weeks under stay-at-home orders, millions in Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state will exit their fifth lockdown just before midnight Tuesday.

The state had now "seen off two Delta outbreaks" in recent months, premier Dan Andrews said.

"It's not over, though, and we've got to be vigilant against this virus, the Delta strain, in the days and weeks and months ahead until we get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can," he added.

"That is some time away."

Schools, restaurants and shops will reopen but restrictions including mask-wearing will remain. — AFP

July 26, 2021 - 8:18am

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday said the country had "largely" passed the peak of its third coronavirus wave and eased restrictions, including a ban on alcohol sales.

The African country worst hit by the virus went back into a partial lockdown last month to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases widely attributed to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Ramaphosa on Sunday said the average number of daily new infections had stood around 12,000 over the past week, a 20% drop from the previous week. 

"The latest figures suggest that we have largely passed the peak of the third wave of infections, although there are areas in the country where we still need to be concerned," the president said in an address to the nation.

While new daily cases have declined steadily in the most populous Gauteng province — the third wave's epicenter — infections are still rising in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces, he cautioned.

But Ramaphosa still announced the easing of restrictions on gatherings, in-country travel and alcohol sales with almost immediate effect. — AFP

July 24, 2021 - 12:15pm

The number of COVID-19 cases surpasses 40 million on Saturday in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Since the first coronavirus infections were recorded last year, the number of cases in the region has reached 40,073,507, according to an AFP count based on official data as of 0200 GMT.

The number of deaths has reached 1,353,335.

The rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant has fueled a surge in COVID-19 cases around the world this week, with total cases hitting 192,942,266 with 4,143,687 deaths.

July 23, 2021 - 1:59pm

China says a WHO proposal to audit Chinese labs as part of further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic showed "disrespect" and "arrogance towards science".

Last week, the World Health Organization said a second stage of the international probe should include audits of Chinese labs, amid increasing pressure from the United States for an investigation into a biotech lab in Wuhan. 

The proposal outlined by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus included "audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019" -- referring to the Chinese city of Wuhan. — AFP

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