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Half a million Chinese netizens demand WHO probe into US lab

Global Times | Updated: 2021-07-21 09:48

More than half a million Chinese netizens have signed a joint letter to the WHO as of Sunday, demanding the organization conduct an investigation into the US Fort Detrick lab, a place whose sudden shutdown is still shrouded in secrecy and has not been subject to any scrutiny from the international community. They believe a thorough probe into the US lab could prevent a future pandemic.

The move came as some Western politicians and media have stirred up a new round in the smear campaign pinpointing China as the culprit for the origin of the coronavirus.

A group of Chinese netizens drafted the joint open letter to ask the WHO to investigate the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. They entrusted the Global Times with posting the letter on its WeChat and Weibo platforms on Saturday to solicit a public response. It garnered half a million signatures within 24 hours.

They said in the letter that to prevent the next pandemic, the WHO should pay special attention to labs that are conducting studies on dangerous viruses or even on biochemical weapons.

The open letter particularly noted the Fort Detrick lab, which stores the deadliest and most infectious viruses in the world, including Ebola, smallpox, SARS, MERS and the novel coronavirus. A leak of any one of them would pose a severe danger to the world.

"But this lab has a notorious record on lab security. There have been scandals where anthrax bacteria was stolen the lab, leading to the poisoning of many and even death. There was a leak from the lab in the autumn of 2019 right before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but detailed information had been withheld by the US under the guise of national security," said the letter.

The information unveiled by US media has worried the world, with some questioning whether the novel coronavirus could be linked to the US lab.

The USAMRIID was temporarily shut down in 2019 after a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) inspection. Although this mysterious lab reported the reason for the closure as "ongoing infrastructure issues with wastewater decontamination", the explanation was not persuasive enough.

In a recent example in June, a research study run by the National Institutes of Health's All of Us Research Program found evidence of COVID-19 infections in the US as early as December 2019, weeks before the first documented infection in the country.

Wuhan recorded China's earliest COVID-19 symptoms from a patient on Dec 8, 2019.

Secret Fort Detrick lab

The joint letter said that "What is more perplexing is that, when China allowed virologists from Western countries and even US mainstream media to visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the US has not opened the Fort Detrick lab, let alone shared the original data with countries including China that are independent from US geopolitical influence."

The US even purposely neglected and distorted the Chinese people's call to investigate the Fort Detrick lab - referring to the questions raised in the letter as a "conspiracy theory," and at the same time, used untenable and flawed rumors to attack the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said the open letter.

Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Global Times that the WHO experts had already made their evaluation about the "Wuhan lab leak theory" during their trip to China, thus suspicion about this hypothesis should be stamped out. However, questions remain for other labs over whether the virus was leaked from them, said the epidemiologist, urging further investigation into labs in other countries.

He believed that the US should be prioritized in the next-stage investigation, as the country was slow to test people at an early stage. The US also has many biological laboratories all around the world. "All bio-weapons related subjects that the country possesses should be placed under scrutiny," Zeng said.

The open letter noted that only by figuring out the origins of the virus can the world eliminate potential hazards, avoid the next round of epidemic and comfort the families of the dead who are seeking answers.

However, the US has always been interrupting the work and refusing to allow the international community to investigate the Fort Detrick lab. After its disastrous handling of the epidemic that has cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans, does the US want to draw the whole world to be buried with it, asked the open letter.

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