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: February 26, 2021 - 2:05pm

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

February 26, 2021 - 2:05pm

Japan will end a coronavirus state of emergency early in some regions as the pace of infection slows, reports say, less than five months before the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics.

The emergency measure -- currently in force in 10 regions including Tokyo -- is looser than the strict lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world, and primarily calls for bars and restaurants to close from 8pm.

It is due to end on March 7, but the government will lift the measure this Sunday, just over a week early, in around six prefectures, the reports say. — AFP

February 26, 2021 - 8:45am

Brazil's death toll from Covid-19 surpasses a quarter-million Thursday, a year after the first case was confirmed in the country, which is struggling with vaccine shortages and a devastating second wave.

The new coronavirus has now killed 251,498 people in Brazil, according to health ministry figures — the second-highest toll worldwide, after the United States, where the number passed half a million Monday.

This has been the deadliest week yet of the pandemic in Brazil, with a daily average of 1,149 deaths over the past seven days, according to the ministry's figures. —  AFP

February 24, 2021 - 1:05pm

Fashionistas will have to log on to soak up the glamour at Milan Fashion Week, which remains online a year after the coronavirus first swept into northern Italy. 

No sharply dressed crowds will attend the extravaganza's opening on Wednesday: it's virtual catwalk shows only, with the likes of Armani and Prada presenting new women's collections for autumn and winter 2021-22. — AFP

February 23, 2021 - 11:31am

Movie theaters in New York City will partially reopen next month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announces, the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions in the Big Apple.

Cuomo says cinemas will be able to operate at 25% capacity, or up to 50 people per screen, from March 5 -- almost exactly a year since they shut. — AFP

February 21, 2021 - 5:39pm

The head of the World Health Organization on Sunday appeals to Tanzania to take "robust action" to combat COVID-19 in the country, where the president has long played down the virus.

President John Magufuli has claimed coronavirus has been has fended off by prayer in Tanzania, and refused to take measures to curb its spread. 

But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has struck both members of the public and government officials.

And Magufuli on Friday appeared to admit the coronavirus was circulating in his country after months of denial.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a number of Tanzanians traveling to neighboring countries and beyond have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond," he said in a statement.

Tedros said he had urged Tanzania in late January to take measures against the pandemic and to prepare for vaccinations.

"Since then I have spoken with several authorities in Tanzania but WHO is yet to receive any information regarding what measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic. — AFP

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