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Virus-hit Wuhan has two laboratories linked to Chinese bio-warfare program

The deadly animal virus epidemic spreading globally may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory linked to China’s covert biological weapons program, according to an Israeli biological warfare expert.

Radio Free Asia this week rebroadcast a local Wuhan television report from 2015 showing China’s most advanced virus research laboratory known the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Radio Free Asia reported.

The laboratory is the only declared site in China capable of working with deadly viruses.

Dany Shoham, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who has studied Chinese bio warfare, said the institute is linked to Beijing’s covert biological weapons program.

“Certain laboratories in the institute have probably been engaged, in terms of research and development, in Chinese [biological weapons], at least collaterally, yet not as a principal facility of the Chinese BW alignment,” Mr. Shoham told The Washington Times.

Work on biological weapons is conducted as part of a dual civilian-military research and is “definitely covert,” he said in an email.

Mr. Shoham holds a doctorate in medical microbiology. From 1970 to 1991 he was a senior analyst with Israeli military intelligence for biological and chemical warfare in the Middle East and worldwide, holding the rank of lieutenant colonel.

China in the past has denied having any offensive biological weapons. The State Department, in a report last year, said it suspects China has engaged in covert biological warfare work.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not return an email seeking comment.

Chinese authorities so far have said the origin of the coronavirus that has killed scores and infected hundreds in central Hubei Province is not known.

Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state-controlled media initial signs as of Thursday indicated the virus originated from wild animals sold at a seafood market in Wuhan.

One ominous sign, said a U.S. official, is the that false rumors since the outbreak began several weeks ago have begun circulating on the Chinese Internet claiming the virus is part of a U.S. conspiracy to spread germ weapons.

That could indicate China is preparing propaganda outlets to counter future charges the new virus escaped from one of Wuhan’s civilian or defense research laboratories.

The World Health Organization is calling the microbe novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV. At a meeting in Geneva Thursday, the organization stopped short of declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The virus outbreak causes pneumonia-like symptoms and prompted China to deploy military forces to Wuhan this week in a bid to halt the spread. All travel out of the city of 11 million people was halted.

The Wuhan institute has studied coronaviruses in the past, including the including the strain that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, H5N1 influenza virus, Japanese encephalitis, and dengue. Researchers at the institute also studied the germ that causes anthrax – a biological agent once developed in Russia.

“Coronaviruses (particularly SARS) have been studied in the institute and are probably held therein,” he said. “SARS is included within the Chinese BW program, at large, and is dealt with in several pertinent facilities.”

It is not known if the institute’s array of coronaviruses are specifically included in biological weapons program but it is possible, he said.

Asked if the new coronavirus may have leaked, Mr. Shoham said: “In principle, outward virus infiltration might take place either as leakage or as an indoor unnoticed infection of a person that normally went out of the concerned facility. This could have been the case with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but so far there isn’t evidence or indication for such incident.”

After researchers sequence of the genome of the new coronavirus it might be possible to determine or suggest its origin or source.

Mr. Shoham, now with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel, said the virology institute is the only declared site in China known as P4 for Pathogen Level 4, a status indicating it uses the strictest safety standards to prevent the spread of the most dangerous and exotic microbes being studied.

The former Israeli military intelligence doctor also said suspicions were raised about the Wuhan Institute of Virology when a group of Chinese virologists working in Canada improperly sent samples to China of what he said were some of the deadliest viruses on earth, including the Ebola virus.

In a July article in the journal Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Mr. Shoham said the Wuhan institute was one of four Chinese laboratories engaged in some aspects of the biological weapons development.

He identified the secure Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory at the institute as engaged in research on the Ebola, Nipah, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever viruses.

The Wuhan virology institute is under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. But certain laboratories within it “have linkage with the PLA or BW-related elements within the Chinese defense establishment,” he said.

In 1993, China declared a second facility, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, as one of eight biological warfare research facilities covered by the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) which China joined in 1985.

The Wuhan Institute of Biological Products is a civilian facility but is linked to the Chinese defense establishment, and has been regarded to be involved in the Chinese BW program, Mr. Shoham said.

China’s vaccine against SARS is probably produced there.

“This means the SARS virus is held and propagated there, but it is not a new coronavirus, unless the wild type has been modified, which is not known and cannot be speculated at the moment,” he said.

The annual State Department report on arms treaty compliance stated last year that China engaged in activities that could support biological warfare.

“Information indicates that the People’s Republic of China engaged during the reporting period in biological activities with potential dual-use applications, which raises concerns regarding its compliance with the BWC,” the report said, adding that the United States suspects China failed to eliminate its biological warfare program as required by the treaty.

“The United States has compliance concerns with respect to Chinese military medical institutions’ toxin research and development because of the potential dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat,” the report added.

The biosafety lab is located about 20 miles from the Hunan Seaford Market that reports from China say may have been origin point of the virus.

Rutgers University microbiologist Dr. Richard Ebright told London’s Daily Mail that “at this point there’s no reason to harbor suspicions” the lab may be linked to the virus outbreak.




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I think the Chinese are more fully aware of their dependance on the world these days and are keen to be seen as doing the right thing, however :: this maybe activist disinformation, or it may be true, so consume with your eyes open ::


He filmed corpses of coronavirus victims in China, police broke into his home

Alice Su 07:39, Feb 05 2020


Masked men in hazmat suits came in the night and knocked on Fang Bin's door in Wuhan, China, demanding to put him in quarantine.

"You went to such a dangerous place, couldn't you have been infected?" one of them asked. "What if your sickness spreads to others?"

In Fang's footage, he counted eight bodies in bags outside a hospital in Wuhan, China.

Fang grew suspicious. He wasn't sick, and none of them was a doctor.

"My temperature is normal," he argued. "Come back with an inspection warrant."

They broke into his home, confiscated his electronic devices and took him away - not to a hospital, but to a police station. Such was the perilous turn for a clothes seller who enlisted as a "citizen journalist" to report on his nation's secrecy and mishandling of the coronavirus epidemic that has killed at least 360 and infected more than 17,300 people.

Fang was interrogated about videos he'd posted online, including one in which he spotted eight corpses within five minutes, at public hospitals in Wuhan, the centre of an outbreak that has now surpassed China's death toll during the Sars crisis in 2002-03.

"There wasn't a single doctor who interviewed me," Fang said in a phone interview Sunday. "They were all police."

He said authorities accused him of receiving money from foreign organisations to make online videos, and ordered him to stop posting "rumours" that would "spread panic" online. Fang's videos were potent: In one he counted several body bags outside a hospital, then went into a room where a man was gasping and sobbing as doctors spoke over a patient who had apparently just died:

"It's over. It's over," a voice says.

"Who is he to you?" Fang asked the man.

"My father," the man cried.

As the new strain of coronavirus that originated in China spreads across the world, authorities are cracking down on Chinese activists' attempts to investigate the severity of the outbreak. At least 254 Chinese citizens have been detained, fined or otherwise punished by authorities for "spreading rumours" about the coronavirus crisis so far, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a nonprofit coalition that tracks human rights in China.

China's inability to contain the virus in the early days of the outbreak has embarrassed it abroad and ignited a backlash at home as President Xi Jinping tries to calm panic at a time he is consolidating his power. Beijing has attempted to present a face of simultaneous transparency and control, urging foreign diplomats not to evacuate their citizens, and uncharacteristically allowing domestic media a modicum of freedom to report on the outbreak in the last two weeks.

Social media posts criticising local government officials have been permitted to gather momentum, along with devastating stories of Wuhan and Hubei residents trying and failing to save family members' lives because of the government's failure to provide information, resources or access to medical facilities.

Harsh criticism has been directed at the local police decision to punish eight whistleblowers, including at least one doctor, who tried to alert the public about a contagious new virus on January 1. They were detained briefly for "spreading rumours" and made to sign a promise that they would stop "making untrue comments" that "severely disturbed the social order."

One of them, Dr Li Wenliang, was later diagnosed with coronavirus after treating patients at the frontline.

In an unusual admonishment of a government institution, China's Supreme People's Court reprimanded the Wuhan police last week in a WeChat post, saying the whistleblowers should not have been criticised. Li and the others have since been heralded as heroes online and by a high-ranking scientist.

"The coronavirus outbreak requires a swift and comprehensive response that respects human rights," said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch, in a report on China's coronavirus response.

"Authorities should recognise that censorship only fuels public distrust, and instead encourage civil society engagement and media reporting on this public health crisis," Wang said.

But such openness runs contrary to the Communist Party's instincts for secrecy and top-down rule. In recent days, censorship and propaganda have again intensified. Doctors and nurses in Wuhan and other localities have reportedly been ordered to stop speaking to the press. Many of the social media posts from sick individuals or their family members have disappeared.

Foreign journalists have been forced to delete video filmed near hospitals and escorted away from affected areas. State news channels meanwhile broadcast stories celebrating China's fast construction of new hospitals, factories producing face masks to fill the shortage, and medical personnel holding hands with patients in hospital beds, singing patriotic songs to soothe them.

One of the most popular articles in more independent-leaning local media, a report by business publication Caijing about the "uncounted people" who had died without being tested or reported as potential coronavirus victims, was wiped off the Chinese internet on Monday.

Fang, who runs a traditional Chinese clothing shop in Wuhan, said he had decided to try "citizen journalism" because of a dearth of reliable information, especially for Wuhan residents stuck in their homes and afraid to go outside.

"I wanted to go and see what's actually happening. It's what any normal citizen should do," he said.

He put on a mask and a hanfu, the traditional outfit he usually sells, and ventured into ground zero.

Fang spent the morning visiting public hospitals in Wuhan and posting videos online. In a video filmed at one of Wuhan's hospitals, one of the designated locations for treating coronavirus patients, he counted eight corpses within five minutes, including bodies in bright yellow and orange bags.

"How can there be so many?" he said.

That night, the men in medical suits came to his door.

Fear spread across the community of Chinese civil society activists in Wuhan, many of whom have been organising volunteer efforts to share medical supplies and donations from other "online friends" across the country who don't trust the official channels.

A group of them went to Fang's residential compound. Unsure of which building he was in, they shouted his name to the sky in the dark. There was no response.

Panicked, they began sharing videos of Fang's confrontation online - and as their posts went viral, the police questioners' tone changed, Fang said.

Around 12.30 am, the police let Fang go with just a warning, though they kept his computer. He found a bike, made his way home, and posted another video online, thanking the other activists and calling for more citizens to speak up.

"There's no use if you're afraid and you're begging. The more afraid you are, the more they'll act like this," he said. "Only if everyone stands up together - that's why I say our movement right now, all the people saving themselves, should become all the people saving one another.

"You're the ones who saved me," he said.

Los Angeles Times



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