Thursday, February 27, 2020

Bio-warfare Army General Takes Over Wuhan Lab

China has reportedly appointed its top military biological weapon expert to take over a secretive virus laboratory in Wuhan after the outbreak of a new coronavirus, sparking conspiracy theories that the health crisis could be connected to the army.

Chen Wei, a Major General of the People's Liberation Army, was flown in to Wuhan by the central government late last month before officially taking the helm of Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to a report. The 54-year-old's designation prompted some people to speculate that the epidemic could have been spawned in the little-known lab and that the lab is run by Beijing's military.

Chen is also a leading specialist in genetic engineering vaccines in China. She developed a medical spray during the SARS outbreak in 2003, preventing around 14,000 medical workers from contracting the virus, said another state-media report.

Wuhan Institute of Virology has been the centre of conspiracy theories after the coronavirus epidemic started. One theory claims that the virus was a biological weapon engineered by China and was leaked from the lab by accident - to which China denied            .

Chen and her team were already developing a quicker way to screen the COVID-19 coronavirus from a tent in the epicenter on January 30, according to an official report from China. Chen, also a leading specialist in genetic engineering vaccines in China, developed a medical spray during the SARS outbreak in 2003. The product prevented around 14,000 medical workers from contracting the virus, said another state-media report.

She is also known in the country as the 'terminator of Ebola' for leading a team to create a vaccine against the fatal virus. Speaking of fighting the novel coronavirus, Chen said: 'The epidemic is like a military situation. The epicentre equals to the battlefield.' 

Although China's official media had little information on where Chen was working from in Wuhan, Radio France Internationale last Saturday claimed that she had already taken the leadership of Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The lab opened in November, 2018, and is classified as P4, the highest level in bio-safety. The report cited a post on Chinese forum Douban as its source and claimed that the move revealed the possible relation between the lab and the army. 'This kind of connection shows that the previous [speculation] suggesting that the Chinese troops were developing biological weapons in Wuhan P4 did not come out of thin air,' it said.

The article was referring to an earlier theory, which claims that the COVID-19 virus was a biological weapon engineered by China and was leaked from the lab by accident. The claims came from a report by The Washington Times, citing a former Israeli military intelligence officer named Dany Shoham. It suggested that the coronavirus originated in the lab which was engaging in a biowarfare programme.

Chinese authorities have denied the allegations. Shi Zhengli, a director at Wuhan Institute of Virology, said earlier this month: 'The 2019 novel coronavirus is nature's punishment for humans' uncivilised life habits. I, Shi Zhengli, use my life to guarantee, [the virus] has no relation with the lab.'

Shi urged the Chinese authorities to launch an official investigation into the matter. She told Chinese news outlet Caixin: 'Conspiracy theorists don't believe in science. I hope our country's professional departments can come to investigate and prove our innocence.'

A Chinese general with a long record in biological warfare defense was dispatched to Wuhan at the end of January, fueling suspicions about the origin of the deadly virus and whether the outbreak is linked to a secure medical laboratory engaged in COVID-19 research.

People’s Liberation Army Maj. Gen. Chen Wei joined the effort to contain the outbreak in Wuhan, the state-run Pengbai news outlet reported Jan. 31, describing the general as “our nation’s ultimate expert” in biological and chemical weapon defenses.

Gen. Chen was credited with working on the fight against the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, and the Ebola virus outbreak a decade later. According to the Pengbai report, Gen. Chen also is the leader of a team of experts at China’s Biological Hazards Prevention and Control Program.

The expanded role for China’s military in the epidemic fight comes as Chinese authorities drag their feet on repeated appeals from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow a full team on international experts to travel to Wuhan to study the virus and the efforts to contain it.

Gen. Chen joined the PLA in 1988 and obtained a doctorate from the Institute of Military Medical Science. She is a member of the National People’s Congress and is also a member of the executive committee of the All-China Women’s League. The PLA officer set up a mobile testing lab in a tent in Wuhan and began operations on the Feb. 7.

“Using indigenously developed test kits and aided by the all-automatic nucleic acid extraction technology, they greatly shortened the nucleic acid detection time and sped up diagnosis,” the posting on news portal Douban reported.

A second report on Chinese social media Feb. 7 revealed that Gen. Chen is a researcher at the Academy of Military Science and has been “working on the front line in combating the virus outbreak in Wuhan.”