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It has been a year since it started dawning on governments and medical professionals that a virus, centred on Wuhan in China, was something significant: and COVID transitioned from a localized problem to a global pandemic. China has made it quite clear that it accepts no responsibility for the pandemic and has mounted an aggressive campaign to deflect criticism. Furthermore, the Chinese government and media have suggested multiple origins for COVID, noting reports of COVID-type cases from around the world in autumn 2019.

In response to US suggestions that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was the original source of COVID, Chinese reaction was sharp. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, during her regular press conference on 18 January, stated “I'd like to stress that if the United States truly respects facts, it should open the biological lab at Fort Detrick, give more transparency to issues like its 200-plus overseas bio-labs, invite WHO experts to conduct origin-tracing in the United States, and respond to the concerns from the international community with real actions. We hope certain US politicians can respect science, act with due conscience, stop shifting the blame or playing the political game, and fostering a favourable environment for international cooperation on origin-tracing and combating the virus, which is what they should do at the moment.”

Readers might recall that, in the 1980s, Soviet propaganda during the AIDS crisis suggested that Fort Detrick, deliberately or by accident, was the source of AIDS. The Maryland installation is home to US Army Medical Command, Medical Research and Materiel Command, Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID) and other US biological and bio-defence research activities. It is worth noting that the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shut the USAMRID Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory for containment breaches in 2019, then restricted operations until the re-authorising operations in April 2020.

The fact that the USAMRID lab had containment breaches had not escaped Chinese notice. It has become a useful retort to US allegations of containment breaches at Chinese biological research facilities in Wuhan. In fact, the Chinese media was calling for an international investigation of Fort Detrick as soon as the USAMRID lab reopened. China’s aggressive post-COVID response reflects confidence in its strong international position.

David Saw in Paris for MON

Hua Chunying, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, suggesting Fort Detrick be opened up to international inspection during her 18 January press conference. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

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