US urged to explain military lab shutdown: Netizens and experts are calling for the US government to release information on the suspension of an infectious disease research lab under the US Army, as a petition on the White House website listed coincident events between the closure and the outbreak of COVID-19, urging the US government to clarify whether the lab was related to the deadly virus.
While the origin of the novel coronavirus is still unknown and conspiracy theories have caused widespread panic, experts said that timely information disclosure to the public would benefit global unity and cooperation against the pandemic, which had infected more than 150,000 people and killed 5,400 around the world as of Saturday.
The Fort Detrick laboratory that handles high-level disease-causing material, such as Ebola, in Fredrick, Maryland was shut after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a cease and desist order to the organization in July, 2019 according to local media.
The suspension was due to multiple causes, including failure to follow local procedures and a lack of periodic recertification training for workers in the biocontainment laboratories. The wastewater decontamination system of the lab also failed to meet standards set by the Federal Select Agent Program, media reported.
The lab, which was closed more than half a year ago, recently caught public attention as a petition submitted to the White House website on March 10 listed some coincidences in time between the closure and the COVID-19 outbreak.
For example, "a large-scale 'influenza' killed more than 10,000 people" in the US in August 2019 following the closure; and the COVID-19 epidemic broke out globally in February 2020 after the US organized Event 201 - A Global Pandemic Exercise - in October 2019.
The petition also noted that many English-language news reports about the closure of Fort Detrick were deleted amid the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, raising suspicions over the lab's relationship with the novel coronavirus.
Petitioners urged the US government to publish the real reason for the lab's closure and to clarify whether the lab was related to the novel coronavirus and whether there was a virus leak. The petition had received just more than 400 signatures as of Sunday.
Chinese netizens urged the US government to respond to the public's appeals as soon as possible. "It's not a small issue, the truth should be published," an internet user commented."The world deserves to know the truth," said another.
Ni Feng, a deputy director of the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, called on the US government to increase transparency in the COVID-19 pandemic related issues in response to wide-spread doubts. The origin of the virus should be decided according to scientific research, but the urgent issue at the current stage is to cooperate in the global battle against the pandemic, Ni noted.
Wang Yiwei, a professor with the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China, agreed with Ni, noting that the US had behaved badly to China when the latter was struggling with the epidemic - accusing China of low transparency and blaming a Chinese lab for leaking the virus. Now China has won the conviction of the world with practical efforts and improvements. The US should cooperate sincerely with China and the world against the virus, according to Wang.
|China also accused the US soldiers participating in a Wuhan Military parade brought the virus.|
Fort Detrick lab shut down after failed safety inspection; all research halted indefinitely: All research at a Fort Detrick laboratory that handles high-level disease-causing material, such as Ebola, is on hold indefinitely after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the organization failed to meet biosafety standards.
No infectious pathogens, or disease-causing material, have been found outside authorized areas at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). The CDC inspected the military research institute in June and inspectors found several areas of concern in standard operating procedures, which are in place to protect workers in biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories, spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden confirmed in an email Friday. The CDC sent a cease and desist order in July.
After USAMRIID received the order from the CDC, its registration with the Federal Select Agent Program, which oversees disease-causing material use and possession, was suspended. That suspension effectively halted all biological select agents and toxin research at USAMRIID, Vander Linden said in her email.
The Federal Select Agent Program does not comment on whether a program such as USAMRIID is registered and cannot comment on action taken to enforce regulations, Kathryn Harben, a spokeswoman for the CDC, wrote in an email.
“As situations warrant, [Federal Select Agent Program] will take whatever appropriate action is necessary to resolve any departures from regulatory compliance in order to help ensure the safety and security of work with select agents and toxins,” Harben said in the email.
The suspension was due to multiple causes, including failure to follow local procedures and a lack of periodic recertification training for workers in the biocontainment laboratories, according to Vander Linden. The wastewater decontamination system also failed to meet standards set by the Federal Select Agent Program, Vander Linden said in a follow-up email.
“USAMRIID will return to fully operational status upon meeting benchmark requirements for biosafety,” she said in an email. “We will resume operations when the Army and the CDC are satisfied that USAMRIID can safely and consistently meet all standards.”
USAMRIID has been working on modified biosafety level 3 procedures and a new decontamination system since flooding in May 2018. This “increased the operational complexity of bio-containment laboratory research activities within the Institute,” she said.
At the time of the cease and desist order, USAMRIID scientists were working with agents known to cause tularemia, also called deer fly or rabbit fever, the plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis, all of which were worked on in a biosafety level 3 laboratory. Researchers were also working with the Ebola virus in a biosafety level 4 lab, Vander Linden said.
Of the pathogens, Ebola, bacteria Yersinia pestis (plague), and bacterium Francisella tularensis (tularemia) are on the list of the Health and Human Services select agents and toxins. The three are considered Tier 1 agents, which pose a severe public health and safety threat. Venezuelan equine encephalitis also falls under the Federal Select Agent Program, according to the Code of Federal Regulations.
“We are coordinating closely with the CDC to ensure that critical, ongoing studies within bio-containment laboratories are completed under appropriate oversight and that research animals will continue to be cared for in accordance with all regulations,” she said in an email.
“Although much of USAMRIID’s research is currently on hold, the Institute will continue its critical clinical diagnostic mission and will still be able to provide medical and subject matter expertise as needed to support the response to an infectious disease threat or other contingency.”
According to the Code of Federal Regulations, which also lists required training, records and biosafety plans, Federal Select Agents Program registration can be suspended to protect public health and safety. It is not clear if this is why the USAMRIID registration was suspended.
The code also gives the Department of Health and Human Services, under which the CDC falls, the right to inspect any site and records, without prior notifications. Vander Linden said in the email that the CDC inspected USAMRIID several times over the past year, both unannounced and on a regularly scheduled basis.
USAMRIID will work to meet requirements set by the Army and the CDC and have its suspension lifted, Vander Linden said. “While the Institute’s research mission is critical, the safety of the workforce and community is paramount,” she said. “USAMRIID is taking the opportunity to correct deficiencies, build upon strengths, and create a stronger and safer foundation for the future.”