Les USA et l’UE doivent exiger de la Chine,

une réparation du préjudice 

 

On peut condamner des décisions de dirigeants d’Etats dépassés par une crise à la fois sanitaire, financière et sociale sans précèdent ou leur reprocher d’avoir tardé à réagir. Mais à leur décharge, le régime chinois a menti et favorisé la propagation éclair d’un coronavirus qui aurait pu être éradiqué lorsqu’il ne touchait que quelques malades et n’aurait jamais dû sortir de la région de Wuhan et de Chine. Compte tenu de cette gestion criminelle, les USA et l’UE, seraient fondés à exiger, ensemble, un montant global permettant de réparer urgemment au moins une part du préjudice mondial. 

Un comportement criminel envers la population chinoise et l’ensemble de l’humanité           

Censure de la parole médicale et de la presse pour dissimuler le danger de la contagion et le nombre de morts, la dictature chinoise a voulu éviter qu’un virus n’entache l’image de la Chine. Obsédé par son rêve de domination absolue de l’économie mondiale, Xi Jinping a délibérément mis ses concitoyens et l’humanité entière en danger. Dans l’article « La mort d'un médecin spécialiste du coronavirus provoque un tollé en Chine »  publié le 7 février 2020 dans le New York Times, la journaliste Li Yuan décrivait la vaste campagne de protestation en Chine après la mort du Docteur Wenliang, arrêté par les autorités chinoises pour avoir lancé l’alerte fin décembre. Elle notait que la machine de propagande du Parti communiste n’était pas parvenue à contrôler le déferlement de messages de chinois furieux.  

Selon l’enquête du 13 mars 2020 réalisée par Joséphine Ma du journal de Hong Kong South China Morning Post qui a eu accès à des documents gouvernementaux confidentiels « Le premier cas confirmé de Covid-19 en Chine remonte au 17 novembre ».  La journaliste n’exclut pas la possibilité d’un précédent cas avant mi-novembre.    

Xi Jinping ne pouvait avoir oublié l’épidémie de SRAS dont la gestion par son prédécesseur, fut également décriée. Ce coronavirus avait tué 800 personnes en 2002/2003. Son mode de transmission interhumain et le type de complication étaient proches mais aussi son origine attribuée à la chauve-souris qui l’aurait transmis à des mammifères vendus sur des marchés d’animaux vivants. Par ailleurs, les autorités n’ont pas appliqué la loi qui interdit depuis 2003, le commerce et la consommation d’animaux sauvages. Dans son article du 14 avril 2020 publié par le Washington Post, le chroniqueur Josh Rogin pointe du doigt le laboratoire de Wuhan qui étudie les coronavirus de chauves-souris. Mais quel que soit le point de départ de l’épidémie, le N°1 chinois a certainement été informé du caractère contagieux du coronavirus. Il était donc probablement conscient du risque de pandémie mortelle mondiale au moment où il était encore possible de juguler la propagation du virus qui n’affectait, selon les documents consultés par le South China Morning Post, que 9 patients en novembre et 27 à la mi-décembre 2020. Pourtant, celui-ci a préféré maintenir la fête du Nouvel an chinois qui devait avoir lieu le 25 janvier. Les préparatifs ont brassé une forte population et une carte interactive des déplacements dans la région de l’épicentre situé à Wuhan, publiée par le New York Times "How the Virus Got Out", nous indique que 7 millions de voyageurs ont quitté la ville avant le confinement ordonné le 23 janvier 2020. On ignore combien parmi eux ont ensuite propagé le virus chinois principalement en train à travers la Chine et en avion aux quatre coins du monde.  

Interrogée le 7 avril 2020 par la chaine de télévision TF1, la journaliste, sinologue et écrivaine Ursula Gauthier estimait que le nombre de décès dus au Covid-19 dans toute la Chine, officiellement de 3291, doit être multiplié par 30 soit au moins 97 000 et le chiffre de 81782 contaminés, multiplié par 15 soit 1.21 million. Lors d’un entretien accordé le 4 avril au journal régional Ouest France, la présidente de Solidarité Chine Marie Holzman, universitaire spécialiste de la Chine, expliquait que les informations qui filtrent au travers de la diaspora, citent un chiffre de 60 000 morts. Au moment où les USA et l’Italie paient le plus lourd tribut en termes de décès, Xi Jinping accuserait, selon l’association, des athlètes américains de passage en octobre à Wuhan ou des Italiens, d’avoir importé le virus.

Le pouvoir chinois nie sa responsabilité dans la mort de ces centaines de milliers de personnes et espère que les inversions et la manipulation de la vérité habituellement opérantes en Chine, fonctionneront aussi à l’extérieur. Alors le monde est pour l’heure sous le choc, plus occupé à se protéger, à sauver ses entreprises et ses emplois ou à enterrer ses morts mais la rancœur et l’hostilité envers Xi Jinping et la Chine pourraient ensuite se révéler vives. 

La dictature chinoise devra tôt ou tard présenter des excuses publiques pour calmer la colère des  familles de victimes décédées comprenant aussi beaucoup de citoyens chinois. Le nombre de décès a  certainement dépassé 300 000 (les USA, l’Italie, l’Espagne, la France et la Grande Bretagne enregistrent à eux-seuls 120 000 morts. Peut-être 100 000 en Chine et probablement plus de 100 000 morts dans les 180 autres pays qui regroupent 5.5 milliards d’habitants). Le chiffre pourrait rapidement grimper à un demi-million si l’on en croit les estimations inquiétantes concernant la propagation dans des pays peu équipés en matière sanitaire dont le moyen orient et l’Afrique.

Les proches des victimes pourraient former, au cours des mois à venir, une action collective pour homicides, qui pourrait amener des dirigeants chinois à s’expliquer devant une cour pénale internationale. Plusieurs grands cabinets d’avocats seront certainement sur les rangs pour organiser une «class action» internationale hors normes pouvant obtenir une condamnation au versement de plusieurs centaines de milliards d’euros de dommages et intérêts.

Une crise dont il est difficile d’appréhender le coût 

En France, l’augmentation de la dette de 59 %  (700 Mds d’euros) au cours des 6 années qui ont suivi la crise de 2008, l’affaiblissement de l’industrie et la prédation d’opérateurs étrangers, les fermetures d’entreprises, la perte d’un million emplois et de marchés abandonnés définitivement au profit d’autres pays dont la Chine qui a vu alors son PIB par tête augmenter de 60 %, nous démontrent que la dernière crise mondiale a couté à l’hexagone, selon les éléments et effets négatifs pris en compte pendant les années suivantes, l’équivalent de 70 % à près d’une année de PIB de 2008. On peut craindre, que le coût de la crise du Covid-19 soit encore plus élevé.

La Banque Centrale Européenne (BCE), dirigée par Christine Lagarde et les Etats semblent avoir pris la mesure de la gravité du nouveau drame. Cependant, bien que considérables, les sommes mobilisées pour soutenir les économies nationales, exprimées en pourcentages des PIB respectifs, qui atteignent 20% en Italie, 19% en Allemagne, 17% en Grande Bretagne et 15 % en France, pourraient ne pas suffire. On ignore combien de temps durera la crise et on ne parvient pas non plus à cerner le contour des ravages et implications. On peut craindre que la plupart des pays développés voient leur dette atteindre  150 ou 200 % du PIB. Un tel niveau d’endettement s’avérerait souvent insupportable en période de faible croissance ou de récession. Si des mesures d’austérité étaient ensuite instaurées afin de satisfaire au Traité de Maastricht qui recommande une limite de déficit public n’excédant pas 3% du PIB, pourraient alors s’ajouter à la crise sanitaire et économique, des troubles sociaux généralisés et ingérables qui précipiteraient l’explosion de l’UE.

Ursula Von der Leyen et Donald Trump doivent, ensemble, exiger de la Chine, une réparation au moins partielle du préjudice 

Faut-il, par crainte de l’affronter, ignorer la responsabilité de la Chine et choisir de faire payer les populations en leur recommandant de travailler plus ainsi que le préconisent certains responsables politiques qui ont déjà oublié le mouvement des gilets jaunes dans une France au bord de la révolution, qui par ailleurs, comptait bon nombre de soignants désormais applaudis. Même si le sujet d’une augmentation des impôts est pour l’instant évité, les peuples européens  ne sont pas dupes et savent qu’on leur présentera l’addition. L’antienne d’une vertueuse austérité ferait ensuite son retour.

Faire payer la Chine et sauver l’UE ou faire payer les européens et condamner l’UE à l’éclatement, telle est la question que devra maintenant se poser la Présidente de la Commission européenne Ursula Von der Leyen. En effet, la Commission européenne a compris qu’elle est à la croisée des chemins et sait qu’elle ne peut courir le risque suicidaire de provoquer, après le départ de la Grande Bretagne, le mécontentement qui précèderait un référendum en Italie, en Espagne ou en France car cela scellerait définitivement le destin de l’UE. Ursula Von der Leyen marche sur des œufs et a présenté les excuses de l’UE à l’Italie pour son impuissance à la secourir. Un récent sondage indiquait que près de la moitié des Italiens, pourtant auparavant plutôt europhiles, voterait maintenant pour une sortie de l’UE.

Si l’on pense qu’il sera difficile de soutenir longtemps l’économie et de financer sa reconstruction, il nous faut alors être pragmatique et mettre le géant asiatique à contribution. Celui-ci doit maintenant remplir un devoir à deux titres : Son entière responsabilité dans l’irruption de la crise actuelle mais aussi sa position hégémonique et abusive en matière industrielle acquise de façon discutable en s’appropriant hautes technologies et savoir-faire parfois en violation des droits internationaux et au détriment de ses concurrents mais avec la bienveillance de gouvernement américains et européens. Cela lui a ainsi permis de monopoliser la croissance et de se placer au premier rang des pays riches en deux décennies.

Il serait juste que la Chine prenne sa part dans la réparation de l’économie mondiale. Cela pourrait revêtir la forme d’un compromis intervenant directement entre, d’une part, l’UE et les USA qui représenteraient aussi les intérêts des autres membres de la communauté internationale éligibles à une indemnisation au prorata de leur contraction économique et du préjudice subi et d’autre part, la Chine. Cet acte pourrait constituer un cadre opportun pour toutes les parties. D’abord pour les USA parce que les familles américaines endeuillées, au chômage ou ruinées attendent du président Donald Trump, à six mois de l’élection présidentielle, une condamnation forte de l’attitude du pouvoir chinois et la promesse d’une réparation financière. Ensuite, pour les instances européennes qui n’ignorent pas que l’existence de l’UE ne tient plus qu’à un fil et savent que les populations européennes qui, après avoir payé un lourd tribut humain, n’accepteraient pas de nouvelles contraintes budgétaires. Et enfin, pour la Chine car cet accord qui lui offrirait la possibilité de s’amender, serait susceptible de faire diminuer le ressentiment envers elle, des populations des 185 Etats touchés par le Covid-19. Xi Jinping doit renoncer à son rêve de domination mondiale et penser au peuple chinois car on peut deviner qu’en l’absence d’excuses aux familles des victimes et d’un geste d’apaisement tel que celui ici proposé, la présence de la Chine et la préservation de ses intérêts, mais surtout la sécurité de ses ressortissants, pourraient être remises en question dans de nombreux pays.  

Le virus de Wuhan pourrait coûter à l’ensemble des pays, l’équivalent d’une année de PIB mondial (85 000 Mds en 2019) ou davantage si l’on partage l’analyse d’experts financiers qui évoquent une crise comparable à celle de 1929. Une évaluation précise du coût de la crise du Covid-19 ne pourra être réalisée qu’après 6/7 ans. Mais un versement de 15 000 Mds d’euros permettrait de commencer à réparer le préjudice. La Chine peut réunir ce montant car elle dispose de 4200 Mds de dollars de réserves de changes ou bons du trésor rapidement mobilisables, peut emprunter des capitaux et céder de grandes entreprises à forte valeur ajoutée, des droits de propriétés ou autres biens. Cette  contribution qui équivaudrait à une année de PIB chinois serait supportable et raisonnable parce qu’elle ne constituerait qu’une faible part du montant du préjudice, si l’on avance une hypothèse de coût mondial de la crise (hors pertes humaines inestimables) de 70 000/100 000 Mds. Celui-ci pourrait cependant se révéler sous-évalué car de nombreuses interrogations demeurent : connaitrons-nous plusieurs vagues épidémiques ? Vaccin ? Nombre de défaillances d’entreprises et taux de chômage ? 1 demi-milliard de nouveaux pauvres selon Oxfam, troubles politiques et sociaux  etc.) Une annuité de 3000 Mds d’euros pendant 8 ans assurerait une continuité dans la réparation des ravages économiques infligés au monde. Le niveau de participation au redressement de l’économie qui est suggéré, permettrait, même si son montant se révèlerait à terme sans doute insuffisant, d’atténuer la violence de la crise avant une aggravation qui n’épargnerait aucun pays.

                                                                                           Francis JOURNOT   

Francis Journot est membre des associations «Vêtements made in France» et «Rendez-nous notre industrie». Il tient le site www.collectivite-nationale.fr.  

Copie et reproduction interdites- Copyright ©  2020 Francis Journot - All rights reserved  

 

DOCUMENTATION 

 

 

The new new world

Widespread Outcry in China Over Death of Coronavirus Doctor

The doctor, Li Wenliang, had been silenced by the police after warning about the new coronavirus that has killed hundreds in China and sickened thousands.A memorial for Dr. Li Wenliang at Wuhan City Central Hospital on Friday.Credit...Chris Buckley/The New York Times

By Li Yuan

  • Feb. 7, 2020 · 

·  ·  ·  阅读简体中文版閱讀繁體中文版

They posted videos of the Les Misérables song “Do You Hear the People Sing.” They invoked article No. 35 of China’s Constitution, which stipulates freedom of speech. They tweeted a phrase from “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The Chinese public has staged what amounts to an online revolt after the death of a doctor, Li Wenliang, who tried to warn of a mysterious virus that has since killed hundreds of people in China, infected tens of thousands and forced the government to corral many of the country’s 1.4 billion people. Since late Thursday, people from different backgrounds, including government officials, prominent business figures and ordinary online users, have posted numerous messages expressing their grief for the doctor, who contracted the new coronavirus, and their anger over his silencing by the police after he shared his knowledge about the virus. It has prompted a nationwide soul-searching under an authoritarian government that allows for little dissent.“I haven’t seen my WeChat timeline filled with so much forlornness and outrage,” Xu Danei, founder of a social media analytics company, wrote on the messaging platform WeChat.

“Tonight is a monumental moment for our collective conscience,” he wrote in a later post.Though there are some outspoken dissidents in China, their numbers have dwindled as the Communist Party under the leader Xi Jinping has cracked down repeatedly on lawyers, journalists and businesspeople over the past seven years.In this highly censored society, it’s rare for ordinary people to make demands and openly express anger toward the government. It’s even more rare for officials and heads of big corporations to show emotions that can be interpreted as discontent with the state.

Stopping the Spread Read the latest on the coronavirus outbreak.

After speculation of Dr. Li’s death began swirling online Thursday evening, the Communist Party’s propaganda machine went into full gear, trying to control the message. But it didn’t seem as effective as it had in the past.The outpouring of messages online from sad, infuriated and grieving people was too much for the censors. The government even seemed to recognize the magnitude of the country’s emotion, dispatching a team to investigate what it called “issues related to Dr. Li Wenliang that were reported by the public,” though without specifics. For many people in China, the doctor’s death shook loose pent-up anger and frustration at how the government mishandled the situation by not sharing information earlier and by silencing whistle-blowers. It also seemed, to those online, that the government hadn’t learned lessons from previous crises, continuing to quash online criticism and investigative reports that provide vital information. Some users of Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, are saying the doctor’s death resonated because he was an ordinary person who was forced to admit to wrongdoing for doing the right thing.

Image

An illustration of Dr. Li shared widely on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform.Credit...Kuang Biao

Dr. Li was reprimanded by the police after he shared concerns about the virus in a social messaging app with medical school classmates on Dec. 30.

Three days later, the police compelled him to sign a statement that his warning constituted “illegal behavior.”

The doctor eventually went public with his experiences and gave interviews to help the public better understand the unfolding epidemic. (The New York Times interviewed Dr. Li days before his death.)

“He didn’t want to become a hero, but for those of us in 2020, he had reached the upper limit of what we can imagine a hero would do,” one Weibo post read. The post is one of many that users say they wrote out of shame and guilt for not standing up to an authoritarian government, as Dr. Li did.

Many people posted a variation of a quote: “He who holds the firewood for the masses is the one who freezes to death in wind and snow.” The original version of the saying came from the Chinese writer Murong Xuecun about seven years ago when he and some friends were raising money for the families of political prisoners.

It was written as a reminder to people that it was in their interest to support those who dared to stand up to authority. Many of those people had frozen to death, figuratively speaking, as fewer people were willing to publicly support these dissenting figures.

The atmosphere was very different on Thursday evening. As confusion mounted about Dr. Li’s fate, people accused the authorities of trying to delay announcing his death.

The grief was so widespread that it appeared in unlikely corners.

“Refusing to listen to your ‘whistling,’ your country has stopped ticking, and your heart has stopped beating,” Hong Bing, the Shanghai bureau chief of the Communist Party’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, wrote on her timeline on WeChat, an instant-messaging platform. “How big a price do we have to pay to make you and your whistling sound louder, to reach every corner of the East?”

Both the Chinese- and English-language Twitter accounts of People’s Daily tweeted that Dr. Li’s death had prompted “national grief.” Both accounts deleted those messages before replacing them with more neutral, official-sounding posts.

The Weibo account of Shandong Province’s law enforcement body posted a portrait of Dr. Li with two sentences that have been circulating online: “Heroes don’t fall from the sky. They’re just ordinary people who stepped forward.”

Wang Gaofei, the chief executive of Weibo, which carries out many of the orders passed down from China’s censors, pondered what lessons China should learn from Dr. Li’s death.

“We should be more tolerant of people who post ‘untruthful information’ that aren’t malicious,” he said in a post. “If we’re only allowed to speak what we can guarantee is fact, we’re going to pay prices.”

Even the official WeChat account of a quantum physics blog wrote a post headlined “Li Wenliang, you only went to the ‘parallel universe.’”

On social media, many people urged the government to make Dr. Li a martyr and hold a state funeral attended by the nation’s leaders.

“It’s the first time my screen is full of one person’s name,” wrote Zheng Wenxin, a lawyer. “It’s the first time this nation held a state funeral for a doctor.”

 

Image

Dr. Li being treated at the Wuhan Central Hospital last month.

“R.I.P. our hero,” Fan Bao, a prominent tech investor, posted on his WeChat timeline.

For some, it was a lesson about the importance of free speech, one the government didn’t understand. Beijing has increased its censorship over investigative reports that have exposed missteps by officials who underestimated and played down the threat from the coronavirus. China’s top leaders stepped up efforts to make the news coverage focus more on positive developments in the battle against the epidemic.

The hashtag #wewantfreedomofspeech# was created on Weibo at 2 a.m. on Friday and had over two million views and over 5,500 posts by 7 a.m. It was deleted by censors, along with related topics, such as ones saying the Wuhan government owed Dr. Li an apology.

“I love my country deeply,” read one post under that topic. “But I don’t like the current system and the ruling style of my country. It covered my eyes, my ears and my mouth.”

The writer of the post complained about not being able to gain access to the internet beyond the Great Firewall. “I’ve been holding back for a long time. I feel we’ve all been holding back for a long time. It erupted today.”

A Wounded City

The coronavirus shakes Hong Kong.

Talking about freedom of speech on the Chinese internet is taboo, even though it’s written into the Constitution. So it’s a small miracle that the freedom of speech hashtag survived for over five hours.

The country’s high-powered executives have been less blunt, but have echoed the same sentiments online.

“It’s time to reflect on the deeply rooted, stability-trumps-everything thinking that’s hurt everyone,” Wang Ran, chairman of the investment bank CEC Capital, wrote on Weibo. “We all want stability,” he asked. “Will you be more stable if you cover the others’ mouths while walking on a tightrope?

Gao Xiaosong, an Alibaba executive, posted on his Weibo account that he hoped China would enact a whistle-blower protection act, seemingly in reference to the American law, so that more people could speak out. “R.I.P. Our hero. Thank you,” he wrote of Dr. Li.

Some proposed that people in China sound their car horns at 9:30 p.m. on Friday in the doctor’s memory. While it’s not clear whether that happened, many around the country blew whistles at 9 p.m. and posted photos of candles on their social media timelines 30 minutes later.

They have also urged the simultaneous posting of a hashtag of the two questions the police asked Dr. Li to answer in a statement: “Can you stop your illegal behavior?” and “Do you understand you’ll be punished if you don’t stop such behavior?”

Dr. Li had been forced to respond in writing: “I can” and “I understand” — putting his red thumbprint on top of them. It’s too early to tell whether the online anger and frustration will amount to much. There was palpable public outrage in a few past tragedies, including a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province and a train accident in 2011. But it faded in those instances.Some people in China are more hopeful this time. In those past tragedies, many people could stay out of them, said Hou Zhihui, a commentator who has been detained twice for his online speeches. “But this time, nobody can stay out of it. It’s impossible.”

China /  Society

Coronavirus: China’s first confirmed Covid-19 case traced back to November 17

  • Government records suggest first person infected with new disease may have been a Hubei resident aged 55, but ‘patient zero’ has yet to be confirmed
  • Documents seen by the Post could help scientists track the spread of the disease and perhaps determine its source

 

Josephine Ma

Published: 8:00am, 13 Mar, 2020

Updated: 12:45am, 14 Mar, 2020

72.6k

 

The first known case of Covid-19 in China dates back to November, but the hunt for “patient zero” goes on. Photo: EPA-EFEThe first case of someone in China suffering from Covid-19 , the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can be traced back to November 17, according to government data seen by the South China Morning Post.Chinese authorities have so far identified at least 266 people who were infected last year, all of whom came under medical surveillance at some point.Some of the cases were likely backdated after health authorities had tested specimens taken from suspected patients.Interviews with whistle-blowers from the medical community suggest Chinese doctors only realised they were dealing with a new disease in late December.Scientists have been trying to map the pattern of the early transmission of Covid-19 since an epidemic was reported in the central China city of Wuhan in January, two months before the outbreak became a global health crisis.Understanding how the disease spread and determining how undetected and undocumented cases contributed to its transmission will greatly improve their understanding of the size of that threat.According to the government data seen by the Post, a 55 year-old from Hubei province could have been the first person to have contracted Covid-19 on November 17.Coronavirus UpdateGet updates direct to your inbox

 
 

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From that date onwards, one to five new cases were reported each day. By December 15, the total number of infections stood at 27 – the first double-digit daily rise was reported on December 17 – and by December 20, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 60.

On December 27, Zhang Jixian, a doctor from Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, told China’s health authorities that the disease was caused by a new coronavirus. By that date, more than 180 people had been infected, though doctors might not have been aware of all of them at the time.

 

With pandemic declared, the race is on to develop a coronavirus vaccine

13 Mar 2020

 

 

By the final day of 2019, the number of confirmed cases had risen to 266, On the first day of 2020 it stood at 381.

While the government records have not been released to the public, they provide valuable clues about how the disease spread in its early days and the speed of its transmission, as well as how many confirmed cases Beijing has recorded.

Scientists are now keen to identify the so-called patient zero, which could help them to trace the source of the coronavirus, which is generally thought to have jumped to humans from a wild animal, possibly a bat.

Of the first nine cases to be reported in November – four men and five women – none has been confirmed as being “patient zero”. They were all aged between 39 and 79, but it is unknown how many were residents of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei and the epicentre of the outbreak.

It is possible that there were reported cases dating back even earlier than those seen by the Post.

According to the

World Health Organisation

’s website, the first confirmed Covid-19 case in China was on December 8, but the global body does not track the disease itself but relies on nations to provide such information.A report published in medical journal The Lancet by Chinese doctors from Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, which treated some of the earliest patients, put the date of the first known infection at December 1.Dr Ai Fen, the first known whistle-blower, told People magazine in an interview that was later censored, that tests showed that a patient at Wuhan Central Hospital was diagnosed on December 16 as having contracted an unknown coronavirus.

 

With pandemic declared, the race is on to develop a coronavirus vaccine

13 Mar 2020

 

 

Accounts by other doctors seem to suggest the medical community in Wuhan became aware of the disease in late December.Previous reports said that although doctors in the city collected samples from suspected cases in late December, they could not confirm their findings because they were bogged down by bureaucracy, such as having to get approval from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which could take days. They were also ordered not to disclose any information about the new disease to the public.As late as January 11, Wuhan’s health authorities were still claiming there were just 41 confirmed cases.brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.

Comments

Josephine Ma

Josephine Ma is China news editor. She has been covering China news for the South China Morning Post for more than 20 years. As a Beijing correspondent, she reported on everything from the Sars outbreak in 2003 to the Lhasa riot and Beijing Olympics in 2008.

 

State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses

A woman wearing a protective suit at a hospital in Wuhan, China. (Aly Song/Reuters)

By

Josh Rogin 

Columnist

April 14, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. GMT+2

Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, U.S. Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats. The cables have fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus — even though conclusive proof has yet to emerge.In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending U.S. science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which had in 2015 become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4). WIV issued a news release in English about the last of these visits, which occurred on March 27, 2018. The U.S. delegation was led by Jamison Fouss, the consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health. Last week, WIV erased that statement from its website, though it remains archived on the Internet.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic. “During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” states the Jan. 19, 2018, cable, which was drafted by two officials from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with the WIV scientists. (The State Department declined to comment on this and other details of the story.)Opinion | U.S. diplomatic cables warned of Wuhan lab safety issues. The world needs answers.Global Opinions writer Josh Rogin has obtained a 2018 U.S. diplomatic cable urging Washington to better support a Chinese lab researching bat coronaviruses. (Joshua Carroll, Kate Woodsome, Josh Rogin/The Washington Post)The Chinese researchers at WIV were receiving assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations, but the Chinese requested additional help. The cables argued that the United States should give the Wuhan lab further support, mainly because its research on bat coronaviruses was important but also dangerous.As the cable noted, the U.S. visitors met with Shi Zhengli, the head of the research project, who had been publishing studies related to bat coronaviruses for many years. In November 2017, just before the U.S. officials’ visit, Shi’s team had published research showing that horseshoe bats they had collected from a cave in Yunnan province were very likely from the same bat population that spawned the SARS coronavirus in 2003.“Most importantly,” the cable states, “the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”The research was designed to prevent the next SARS-like pandemic by anticipating how it might emerge. But even in 2015, other scientists questioned whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks. In October 2014, the U.S. government had imposed a moratorium on funding of any research that makes a virus more deadly or contagious, known as “gain-of-function” experiments.As many have pointed out, there is no evidence that the virus now plaguing the world was engineered; scientists largely agree it came from animals. But that is not the same as saying it didn’t come from the lab, which spent years testing bat coronaviruses in animals, said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley. “The cable tells us that there have long been concerns about the possibility of the threat to public health that came from this lab’s research, if it was not being adequately conducted and protected,” he said.There are similar concerns about the nearby Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab, which operates at biosecurity level 2, a level significantly less secure than the level-4 standard claimed by the Wuhan Insititute of Virology lab, Xiao said. That’s important because the Chinese government still refuses to answer basic questions about the origin of the novel coronavirus while suppressing any attempts to examine whether either lab was involved.Sources familiar with the cables said they were meant to sound an alarm about the grave safety concerns at the WIV lab, especially regarding its work with bat coronaviruses. The embassy officials were calling for more U.S. attention to this lab and more support for it, to help it fix its problems.“The cable was a warning shot,” one U.S. official said. “They were begging people to pay attention to what was going on.” No extra assistance to the labs was provided by the U.S. government in response to these cables. The cables began to circulate again inside the administration over the past two months as officials debated whether the lab could be the origin of the pandemic and what the implications would be for the U.S. pandemic response and relations with China.Inside the Trump administration, many national security officials have long suspected either the WIV or the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab was the source of the novel coronavirus outbreak. According to the New York Times, the intelligence community has provided no evidence to confirm this. But one senior administration official told me that the cables provide one more piece of evidence to support the possibility that the pandemic is the result of a lab accident in Wuhan. “The idea that it was just a totally natural occurrence is circumstantial. The evidence it leaked from the lab is circumstantial. Right now, the ledger on the side of it leaking from the lab is packed with bullet points and there’s almost nothing on the other side,” the official said.As my colleague David Ignatius noted, the Chinese government’s original story — that the virus emerged from a seafood market in Wuhan — is shaky. Research by Chinese experts published in the Lancet in January showed the first known patient, identified on Dec. 1, had no connection to the market, nor did more than one-third of the cases in the first large cluster. Also, the market didn’t sell bats.Shi and other WIV researchers have categorically denied this lab was the origin for the novel coronavirus. On Feb. 3, her team was the first to publicly report the virus known as 2019-nCoV was a bat-derived coronavirus.The Chinese government, meanwhile, has put a total lockdown on information related to the virus origins. Beijing has yet to provide U.S. experts with samples of the novel coronavirus collected from the earliest cases. The Shanghai lab that published the novel coronavirus genome on Jan. 11 was quickly shut down by authorities for “rectification.” Several of the doctors and journalists who reported on the spread early on have disappeared.On Feb. 14, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a new biosecurity law to be accelerated. On Wednesday, CNN reported the Chinese government has placed severe restrictions requiring approval before any research institution publishes anything on the origin of the novel coronavirus.The origin story is not just about blame. It’s crucial to understanding how the novel coronavirus pandemic started because that informs how to prevent the next one. The Chinese government must be transparent and answer the questions about the Wuhan labs because they are vital to our scientific understanding of the virus, said Xiao.We don’t know whether the novel coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab, but the cable pointed to the danger there and increases the impetus to find out, he said.“I don’t think it’s a conspiracy theory. I think it’s a legitimate question that needs to be investigated and answered,” he said. “To understand exactly how this originated is critical knowledge for preventing this from happening in the future.”

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