Pandemic Reveals Alarming Absence of Ethics in China’s Virology Labs: Experts

Venus Upadhayaya
By Venus Upadhayaya
April 25, 2020COVID-19
Pandemic Reveals Alarming Absence of Ethics in China’s Virology Labs: Experts
Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli is seen inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China's Hubei province, on Feb. 23, 2017. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)

The CCP virus pandemic highlights a history of mismanagement, corruption, and lack of ethics in China’s virology labs, experts say.

Questions have grown as to the source of the coronavirus that has claimed over 197,000 lives and infected more than 2.8 million around the world as of April 25, according to a count from Johns Hopkins.

But the real number of infected and killed is unconfirmed due to the lack of accurate data from China.

One widely circulated theory is that the CCP virus was manufactured inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, something the Chinese regime has denied.

Regardless, experts say the investigations into China’s research on coronaviruses point to a lack of ethics in China’s virology labs, the root cause of which is the absolute control of the CCP over these institutes.

“For many years, virologists working in Western countries have imagined that their Chinese colleagues operate under the same ethical guidelines that they do,” Steve Mosher, president of the conservative human rights charity Population Research Institute, said in an email.

“Certainly the written rules—copied from Western countries—look identical. But in terms of actual behavior, the practices are quite different. Everything in China is driven by the political needs of the CCP,” said Mosher.

Zhengli Shi P4 laboratory
Chinese virologist Dr. Zhengli Shi, is seen inside the P4 laboratory, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province, on February 23, 2017. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images)

Issue of Ethics with China’s Coronavirus Research

Theories about the CCP virus escaping from the lab originate from the fact that patient zero was infected with the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, where a highly rated researcher, Dr. Zhengli Shi, had performed gain-of-function research on the SARS virus in the institute.

Gain-of-function research involves deliberately enhancing the transmissibility or virulence of a pathogen.

The U.S. administration paused funding on certain kinds of this gain-of-function research in 2014, and lifted it only in 2017 with an emphasis that a “thoughtful review process” laid out by HHS be followed.

Shi, also popularly known as the “bat woman” in China for her research on the winged mammals, had stored bats known to carry coronaviruses inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The risks involved in gain-of-interest research came under debate in an article published in Nature in 2015 that discussed a chimeric virus that was found to infect humans after it was created in a lab by genetic engineering between horseshoe bats in China and the SARS virus, by an international group of virologists including Shi.

“If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,” Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, told Nature at the time.

Though it’s not certain whether the chimeric virus was stored in Shi’s lab in Wuhan, the case highlighted the risks involved in such research. Nature recently published a disclaimer saying there is no evidence indicating it was the cause of the current pandemic.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on the “Larry O’Connor Show” on April 23 that the United States is constantly evaluating such high-risk facilities around the world that research viruses to make sure all safety measures are followed.

“There are many of those kinds of labs inside of China, and we have been concerned that they didn’t have the skill set, the capabilities, the processes, and protocols, that were adequate to protect the world from potential escape,” said Pompeo.

 P4 laboratory Wuhan
The P4 laboratory (L) at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

Allegations of Sale of Animals from Lab to Market

One theory is that somehow the coronavirus came from the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan as a result of the pathogen jumping to humans from contaminated meat obtained from China’s research labs.

Researchers from these labs allegedly sell their leftovers after they are done experimenting on the animals.

Experts interviewed by The Epoch Times for this story have expressed concerns about this practice, due to reports of corruption inside Chinese labs. They fear it could be a channel of virus transmission.

A group of bipartisan American lawmakers expressed their concerns in a letter (pdf) to the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, calling for a “global shutdown of live wildlife markets” after theories of the pandemic originating from the wet market came to the fore.

A recent case of such corrupt practices was reported by The Epoch Times’ Chinese edition: Ning Li, a professor from China Agricultural University was sentenced to 12 years in jail in February for selling animals from his Wuhan lab.

Of the 3.7 million Chinese yuan ($522,000) Li earned from his crimes, over 1 million Chinese yuan ($141,000) was from selling animals or milk used by the lab, including pigs and cows.

Sean Lin, a former virology researcher for the U.S. Army, said such crimes are difficult to bring to justice inside China.

“Even if people want to expose some institute staff or leaders selling experiment animals to the markets, their voice could be easily quenched by the institute leadership in the name of safeguarding the reputation of the institute,” he said.

Wendy Rogers, an Australian expert in practical bioethics and one of Nature’s top 10 people who mattered in science in 2019, said via email that such a culture further encourages corrupt practices inside these Chinese labs.

“There is widespread toleration of corruption in China, which encourages citizens to ‘get away’ with unethical or illegal acts if they can, especially if by doing so, they can make extra income,” said Rogers.

‘The System Will Become More Closed’

When asked if the pandemic will force the Chinese regime to become more transparent to the international community on its virology research, Mosher said he doesn’t believe that will happen.

“The reaction of the CCP will be to become less transparent and less ethical by hiding more and more of what it does from the scientific community, by putting more and more barriers in place to publication and international cooperation,” he said.

“The system will become more closed, rather than more open. This is, after all, the ‘natural state’ of a high-tech, bureaucratic, totalitarian state,” Mosher added, saying that those doctors and researchers who tried to be transparent about the CCP virus have been punished and censored.

“Those who have been willing participants in the web of lies spun by the central authorities have been feted and promoted. Thus the lack of ethics grows,” said Mosher.

Li Wenliang
A memorial for Dr. Li Wenliang, who was a whistleblower of the CCP virus that originated in Wuhan, China, and caused the doctor’s death in that city, pictured outside the UCLA campus in Westwood, California, on Feb. 15, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)

Lin pointed out that people in China don’t have freedom of speech and during the pandemic, and even doctors and nurses couldn’t come out in the open to talk about the outbreak or the lack of “medical supplies to the public media or scientific journals.”

“The world also needs to investigate whether Wuhan Institute of Virology, together with Chinese Military Medicine Units, have been conducting bioweapon development projects, even though the CCP pledged not to do so by signing the Biological Weapon Convention in 1985,” Lin added.

From The Epoch Times

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