Sunday, May 19, 2024

Scientist who gave World the Covid sequence is locked out of his lab by Chinese

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The Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center insisted that Prof Zhang’s lab had been closed for “safety reasons”, with alternative space provided while renovations were underway.

But according to an online statement from Prof Zhang, seen by the Associated Press but since deleted, the scientist was only offered another laboratory space after the eviction and it does not meet the safety standards required for his research.

“I won’t leave, I won’t quit, I am pursuing science and the truth!” he wrote in the now-deleted post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. “The Public Health Center are refusing to let me and my students go inside the laboratory office to take shelter.”

Prof Stuart Neil, a virologist at King’s College London involved in work tracing Covid’s origins, told The Telegraph that it was “depressing to see this continual harassment and punishment of Zhang Yongzhen”.

“He did a very brave thing by releasing the virus sequence despite the Chinese authorities wanting to control information about the initial outbreak. If he hadn’t forced [China’s] hand, how long would they have delayed releasing the sequence? Two to three weeks after the release of this sequence the first mRNA vaccine constructs were already in production for preclinical testing.

“I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that without Zhang’s bravery there would have been a real delay in the roll-out of the first vaccine. And for it he has been treated cruelly for years, Prof Neil said.

Prof Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, added that Prof Zhang’s work during the pandemic had been “essential”, and stressed that “fighting pandemics relies heavily on open sharing of data”.

But Prof Zhang’s treatment reflects a broader crackdown on coronavirus research by the Chinese state.

Scientists working with collaborators in China, who asked not to be named amid concerns for their colleagues, told The Telegraph that international collaborations have become far more difficult since the pandemic, as the government aims to control every aspect of the narrative.

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