Online petition for Fort Detrick probe draws 20m signatures; China urges US to open UNC lab, disclose military games patients
Published: Jul 30, 2021 09:59 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday urged the US to take four steps on COVID-19 origins tracing if it wants to show transparency, including disclosing data on early COVID-19 cases, inviting the World Health Organization (WHO) to probe Fort Detrick and the University of North Carolina, and publishing data on sick soldiers who attended the Wuhan Military World Games, amid mounting calls from China and the international community to investigate the US on COVID-19 origins and growing outrage on the Biden administration's political maneuver which severely hampered the global virus tracing task. 

Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, made the recommendations for Washington at Friday's media briefing. He said that in order to shift responsibility from its failed COVID-19 response and achieve its political goal of smearing other countries, the US has politicized the pandemic, stigmatized the virus, and turned the COVID-19 origins tracing into a tool, and it has taken lying, discrediting and coercion as its means while showing no respect to science and justice. 

"You cannot whitewash yourself by smearing others. If the US truly wants to be transparent and responsible, please start with the four things," Zhao said.

Zhao's recommendations were made Friday, as an online petition urging the WHO to investigate the Fort Detrick lab has gained more than 20 million signatures by early Saturday morning. 

A group of Chinese netizens drafted the petition and entrusted the Global Times to post the petition on WeChat and Weibo on July 17 to solicit public response. This week, the petition also opened channels for overseas participants

Prior to Zhao's four recommendations to the US, several US senators proposed three steps for the US to do on virus origins, and Chinese experts said the two formed a sharp contrast as China offered an advice based on a scientific perspective, and the US clearly weaponized the issue for political purposes of containing China. 

Several US senators including Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday asking the administration to take three steps on COVID-19 origins - directing the intelligence community to continue investigating, working with allies and partners to "use all available resources and tools" to pressure Beijing into permitting an investigation in China, and completing a thorough review of existing and prior US government support or funding for research collaboration with China. 

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times that the US senators' three steps clearly reflected that the US manipulated the virus origins issue to smear China's achievement in epidemic control and China's international status and image so that China's rapid development would not affect the US' world leadership in the post-pandemic era. 

But no matter how the US tried to manipulate the issue and shift the blame to China, it cannot hide the fact that the US is the biggest loser in the pandemic response, Li said. 

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Disclose data 

Zhao urged the US to disclose data on early cases including the unexplained respiratory disease in Virginia, vaping-related lung disease in Wisconsin in July 2019 and flu patients in the winter of 2019.  

"The US should conduct nucleic acid testing and anti-body tests to serum samples of these patients to find out how many of them were actually COVID-19 patients," Zhao said. 

Then-US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Robert Redfield told the House Oversight Committee panel in early 2020 on the COVID-19 response that some cases may have been misdiagnosed as flu that actually were infected with coronavirus. 

According to media reports, the vaping-related lung disease, or EVALI was reported in the US as early as July 2019, the same month the US CDC issued a "cease and desist order" to halt most research at Fort Detrick. 

Yang Zhanqiu, a virologist at Wuhan University, has repeatedly voiced his concern of the US' 2019 influenza epidemic and outbreak of vaping-related lung disease since 2020. Yang told the Global Times that he had visited the Fort Detrick laboratory years ago and learned that it stores samples for a long time for scientific research, so he believes that many samples during the influenza epidemic have been preserved by American health departments. 

Due to the similarity of symptoms between EVALI and COVID-19 and no nucleic acid detection kits available, it's highly likely that some COVID-19 patients were actually misdiagnosed as EVALI patients in 2019, Yang said. 

The US should run antibody tests on blood samples of EVALI patients to find out how many of them were actually COVID-19 patients, and share the data with global scientists to help the world get closer to the COVID-19 origins, Yang said, noting "it's a very easy job."

The timeline of early cases in the US has been constantly dialed forward. A study of over 24,000 samples taken for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research program in the US between January 2 and March 18, 2020 suggested that seven people across five states may have contracted COVID-19 at least a month before the country's first officially confirmed cases on January 21, 2020.

But according to US media reports, the US suspended the study of early cases for political interests. 

Graphic: Xu Zihe/GT

Graphic: Xu Zihe/GT

Yang believes the COVID-19 issue has been deeply politicized by the US which used it as a weapon to attack China. 

"It's not that the US cannot run those tests due to technical issues, it's just they prefer not to or not to tell the world for their selfish political interests," Yang said. 

Many Wuhan people who were accused along with the city of being the culprit for the pandemic have vehemently expressed their abhorrence of the West's slander and are clinging to the firm belief that Wuhan was a victim and that the virus was brought in from foreign countries.

Zhao also urged the US to publish data of sick soldiers who attended the 2019 Wuhan Military World Games. 

The US sent 300 personnel to Wuhan, have there been any of them found with symptoms similar to COVID-19? The US should make these cases public, Zhao said. 

According to the WHO-China joint report released on March 30, during the Military Games, four African participants were diagnosed and treated for malaria, and one American citizen had gastroenteritis.

A review of the event showed that no appreciable signals of clusters of fever or severe respiratory disease requiring hospitalization were identified, but the WHO recommended more review of the data on respiratory illness from on-site clinics at the military games.

A Chinese scientist who requested anonymity said previously that judging from the symptoms of the malaria and gastroenteritis the five foreign athletes were diagnosed with, both diseases share common symptoms with COVID-19. The possibility of co-infection of malaria and COVID-19, or gastroenteritis and COVID-19 could not be ruled out. 

Lab, university probe

In September 2019, vaping-related lung illness cases doubled in Maryland where the Fort Detrick lab is located, adding to the suspicion on the lab, which has stored the most deadly and infectious viruses in the world, including Ebola, smallpox, SARS, MERS and the novel coronavirus.

On the other hand, the US should invite WHO experts to probe the University of North Carolina, Zhao said. The US has been smearing the Wuhan Institute of Virology, saying it created COVID-19 by conducting coronavirus studies. In fact, the US is the biggest funder and doer of coronavirus research, especially Ralph Baric's team at UNC, Zhao said.  

"With the investigation of Baric's team and their lab, it will be clear whether the coronavirus research will produce the novel coronavirus or not," Zhao said. 

The US has been pressing the scientific community to support the Wuhan lab leak theory, using threats, deliberately distorting scientists' views, subjecting many outspoken scientists to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm, which Zhao called "origins tracing terrorism."

Despite the US' threat, more rational voices criticizing its attitude on COVID-19 origins tracing emerged in the scientific community recently. 

Twenty-one Chinese scientists and one British scholar working in China published an article this month strongly demonstrating why the novel coronavirus can only come from nature and cannot be man-made.

Nine scientists in China published an article on Friday, saying that there are multiple potential locations of the natural reservoir of the novel coronavirus, and the city of Wuhan, which first reported the COVID-19 outbreak in China, might be far from the place of origin and was affected by importing the novel coronavirus through cold-chain cargo arrivals from other parts of the world before the pandemic.