Alarming absence of ethics, illegal activities in China virology lab in focus as Coronavirus rages

  • Ethical issues in Chinese virology labs in limelight after Coronavirus pandemic kills thousands of people

  • Reports revealed that researchers from Wuhan labs used to sell animal leftovers in wet markets

The novel Coronavirus has claimed over 206,000 lives and infected more than 2.9 million people all over the world. The outbreak emerged in China's Wuhan city in December 2019 but within months the virus started affecting the whole world, and now the US has the most infection and death cases.

Nobel-winning French professor Luc Montagnier and Russian microbiologist Professor Peter Chumakov earlier criticized the controversial Wuhan Institute of Virology for its role in the alleged escape of the virus from the lab. There are other experts who also claimed that the COVID-19 highlights a history of mismanagement, corruption and lack of ethics in China's top virology institution.

Staff members work in a laboratory in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province Xinhua/IANS

China's research on Coronavirus

The world authorities accused China of hiding facts about Coronavirus. According to experts and politicians the death toll and the number of infections in China are still debatable topics. Apart from that, there is a widespread theory which states that the so-called 'CCP Virus' was created inside the Wuhan lab, something which China government had been denying for a while.

But experts believe that the investigations into China's research on Coronaviruses point to a lack of ethics in Wuhan's virology labs, the root cause of which is the absolute control of the country's government over these institutes. Steve Mosher, president of the conservative human rights charity Population Research Institute, recently stated that:

For many years, virologists working in Western countries have imagined that their Chinese colleagues operate under the same ethical guidelines that they do. Certainly the written rules—copied from Western countries—look identical. But in terms of actual behaviour, the practices are quite different. Everything in China is driven by the political needs of the CCP

Ethical issues with China's Coronavirus research

The theories about the escape of the deadly Coronavirus from the Wuhan lab originated from the fact that the patient zero was infected with the virus in Wuhan, where highly rated researcher Dr Zhengli Shi, who is also known as "bat woman", had performed gain-of-function research on the SARS virus inside the controlled environment. It should be noted that the gain-of-function research includes enhancement of the transmissibility or virulence of a pathogen. It was revealed Shi had stored bats known to carry Coronaviruses inside the Wuhan lab.

In 2014, the US halted funding for certain kinds of gain-of-function research. But the US lifted the pause in 2017 stating that "the HHS P3CO Framework describes a multi-disciplinary review process, involving the funding agency and a Department-level review group, that considers the scientific merits and potential benefits of the research, as well as the potential to create, transfer, or use an enhanced potential pandemic pathogen."

The risk factors in such research came under the spotlight in a 2015 article published in Nature that revealed details about a chimeric virus that was found to infect humans after it was created in a lab by genetic engineering between horseshoe bats in China as well as the SARS virus, by an international group of scientists including Shi. After the report was published, Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris said: "If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory."

However, recently Nature published a disclaimer stating that there is no evidence indicating it was the cause of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on the "Larry O'Connor Show" on April 23: "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."

Biosafety Wikimedia commons

Virus escaping Wuhan lab

One of the conspiracy theories is that the deadly virus, after escaping from the Wuhan lab, somehow entered the Hunan seafood market and then jumped to humans from contaminated meat. It was claimed that researchers from the Wuhan labs allegedly sell their leftovers after they are done experimenting on the animals.

Experts told The Epoch Times that the theory highlights concerns over this practice as well as reports of corruption inside Chinese labs. A group of bipartisan American lawmakers expressed their concerns in a letter to the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization while asking for a "global shutdown of live wildlife markets" after theories of the COVID-19 origin from the wet market came under the public knowledge.

Recent reports revealed that a professor from China Agricultural University, Ning Li, was sentenced to 12 years in jail in February for selling animals from the Wuhan lab. It should be known that of the 3.7 million Chinese yuan illegally earned by Li, more than one million yuan came from the selling of animals or milk used by the lab.

In this case, a former virology researcher for the US Army stated: "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."

Related topics : Coronavirus