The Chinese Communist Party passed a law on Thursday that will result in the construction of three research laboratories at biosafety level-4, approved for research on the most dangerous pathogens.
Prior to the construction of these facilities, China was believed to have in operation only two laboratories that met requirements for biosafety level-4, the state-run Global Times noted Thursday. One of those is the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), subject of much speculation after Wuhan became the first city in the world to document human infections of Chinese coronavirus in late 2019. The WIV was known to have been studying bat coronaviruses at the time the outbreak began.
The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly insisted that the WIV played no role in what is now the Chinese coronavirus pandemic and claims that Wuhan was not the origin of the pathogen, despite no evidence suggesting any cases of infection occurred anywhere outside of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, prior to the cases confirmed there.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has alleged repeatedly, without evidence, that the true origin of the novel coronavirus is the United States, specifically blaming a biology laboratory at a U.S. Army facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland. No evidence suggests any cases of Chinese coronavirus occurred in Maryland prior to those in Wuhan.
In announcing the construction of the new facilities — the three biosafety level-4 laboratories, plus another 88 biosafety level-3 laboratories — the Global Times claimed China was dealing a “firm blow to foreign attacks, like the conspiracy theory that ‘COVID-19’s [Chinese coronavirus] source came from a Wuhan lab.'”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a biosafety level-4 laboratory “is the highest level of biological safety.”
“The microbes in a BSL-4 lab are dangerous and exotic, posing a high risk of aerosol-transmitted infections. Infections caused by these microbes are frequently fatal and without treatment or vaccines,” the CDC noted. “Two examples of microbes worked with in a BSL-4 laboratory include Ebola and Marburg viruses.”
The Global Times insisted that the construction of more such laboratories was necessary for “national security.” Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Xiang Libin reportedly detailed the plan to construct the new laboratories — without any indication on their location or any specific microbes they would study — this week. The state-run newspaper noted that no definitive list of the number of biological laboratories already present in China exists.
“Biosafety is an integral part of national security and the new law has comprehensive regulations on biosafety-related activities, including rules on biosafety risk monitoring and early warning, risk assessment, and information sharing and release,” the Global Times insisted, noting that the higher-danger laboratories are joining “a number” of biosafety level-2 facilities built since the Chinese coronavirus pandemic began.
President Donald Trump’s top diplomat, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, repeatedly indicated in public that he had reason to believe the pandemic was a result of an incident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
“There is enormous evidence that this is where it began,” he said in an interview in May 2020. Nearly a year later, in February, Pompeo insisted that “not a thing” had changed since he first made the accusation to convince him that he was incorrect.
“I continue to know there was significant evidence … that this may well have come from that laboratory,” Pompeo said.
In a hearing held this week in Congress, high-ranking members of the administration of President Joe Biden appeared to agree with Pompeo that the U.S. intelligence community believes that the WIV was the possible origin of the virus.
“It is absolutely accurate the Intelligence Community does not know exactly where, when, or how COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially. And basically, components have coalesced around two alternative theories,” Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines narrated. “The scenarios are it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, or it was a laboratory accident as you identified. And that is where we are right now.”
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) sent a team to Wuhan in January to study the origin of the pandemic. The team released a 120-page report in late March concluding that the likeliest origin for the virus was an animal infecting another animal in nature, which in turn infected the first human being. It explored the possibility of a laboratory accident, but not a deliberate leak, and concluded such a scenario was “unlikely.”
The head of the W.H.O., Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, dismissed the investigation into the theory that it escaped from a laboratory as insufficiently exhaustive in a press briefing to debut the report.
“The team also visited several laboratories in Wuhan and considered the possibility that the virus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident,” Tedros asserted. “However, I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough. Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions.”
“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,” he added.
Tedros also condemned the government of China for refusing to allow the W.H.O. investigators to access key data regarding the early days of the pandemic, in particular information on individual patients diagnosed with coronavirus disease.
“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data. I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing,” Tedros told reporters.
The Chinese government used Tedros’ remarks to urge a W.H.O. investigation into biological laboratories in the United States, insisting that the theory the virus escaped from a laboratory does not necessarily mean the leak occurred in China.
“The lab leak theory is extremely unlikely in China, but it doesn’t mean that it’s unlikely somewhere else,” a top scientist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control (CDC), Zeng Guang, told the Global Times.
“The global investigation on the virus origin is the direction that Chinese scientists believe the next stage probe should be,” the state newspaper asserted in early April. “Yet they urged certain countries, especially the U.S., to stop putting political pressure on this work and on scientists, because if such an investigation is politically guided, there won’t be any fair and scientific outcome.”