US urged to explain military lab shutdown
By Leng Shumei
Passenger with face mask is seen in a metro train in Manhattan of New York, the US, on March 4. Photo: Xinhua
Netizens and experts are calling for the US government to release information on the suspension of an infectious disease research lab under the US Army, as a petition on the White House website listed coincident events between the closure and the outbreak of COVID-19, urging the US government to clarify whether the lab was related to the deadly virus.
While the origin of the novel coronavirus is still unknown and conspiracy theories have caused widespread panic, experts said that timely information disclosure to the public would benefit global unity and cooperation against the pandemic, which had infected more than 150,000 people and killed 5,400 around the world as of Saturday.
The Fort Detrick laboratory that handles high-level disease-causing material, such as Ebola, in Fredrick, Maryland was shut after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a cease and desist order to the organization in July, 2019 according to local media.
The suspension was due to multiple causes, including failure to follow local procedures and a lack of periodic recertification training for workers in the biocontainment laboratories. The wastewater decontamination system of the lab also failed to meet standards set by the Federal Select Agent Program, media reported.
The lab, which was closed more than half a year ago, recently caught public attention as a petition submitted to the White House website on March 10 listed some coincidences in time between the closure and the COVID-19 outbreak.
For example, “a large-scale ‘influenza’ killed more than 10,000 people” in the US in August 2019 following the closure; and the COVID-19 epidemic broke out globally in February 2020 after the US organized Event 201 – A Global Pandemic Exercise – in October 2019.
The petition also noted that many English-language news reports about the closure of Fort Detrick were deleted amid the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, raising suspicions over the lab’s relationship with the novel coronavirus.
Petitioners urged the US government to publish the real reason for the lab’s closure and to clarify whether the lab was related to the novel coronavirus and whether there was a virus leak.
The petition had received just more than 400 signatures as of Sunday.
Chinese netizens urged the US government to respond to the public’s appeals as soon as possible.
“It’s not a small issue, the truth should be published,” an internet user commented.
“The world deserves to know the truth,” said another.
Ni Feng, a deputy director of the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, called on the US government to increase transparency in the COVID-19 pandemic related issues in response to wide-spread doubts.
The origin of the virus should be decided according to scientific research, but the urgent issue at the current stage is to cooperate in the global battle against the pandemic, Ni noted.
Wang Yiwei, a professor with the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China, agreed with Ni, noting that the US had behaved badly to China when the latter was struggling with the epidemic – accusing China of low transparency and blaming a Chinese lab for leaking the virus.
Now China has won the conviction of the world with practical efforts and improvements. The US should cooperate sincerely with China and the world against the virus, according to Wang.