U.S. university arouses attention for 'lab-created coronavirus' incidents
A virologist tests wastewater in Paris, France, to detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus, July 22, 2020. /CFP

A virologist tests wastewater in Paris, France, to detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus, July 22, 2020. /CFP

Besides the much-discussed Fort Detrick lab, another U.S. biological laboratory has attracted public suspicion in the search for the origins of COVID-19 due to its frequent lab incidents, Global Times reported on Monday.

The biological laboratory at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, led by well-known U.S. coronavirus expert Ralph Baric, is an authority with "widely recognized capability in synergizing and modifying coronavirus," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, urging the U.S. to invite World Health Organization (WHO) experts to investigate the UNC facility.

During a press conference in late July, Zhao said: "A probe into Baric's team and lab would clarify whether coronavirus research has created or will create SARS-CoV-2."

Multiple media reports showed that labs at UNC have experienced frequent accidents caused by lax safety procedures.

From January 2006 to June 2020, the lab at UNC-Chapel Hill reported 28 lab incidents involving genetically engineered organisms to officials at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to ProPublica, a non-profit news website based in New York City.

Six of the incidents involved "various types of lab-created coronaviruses," Global Times reported, citing an article published by ProPublica in August 2020.

Besides, Global Times found that the incidents reported by UNC were filled with incorrect remedial measures.

For example, after a mouse at the lab bit a researcher's index finger in April 2020, the researcher only undertook 14 days of self-isolation at home instead of being placed into medical quarantine, according to Global Times.

"A single incident like the UNC reported could hardly cause immediate virus evolution or wide spread," a Chinese biosecurity specialist surnamed Li (pseudonym) told Global Times.

"But there is possibility that the leakage has led to a modified virus spread among humans – potential up to several hundred of people – through a period of time, and that the virus evolves during human-to-human or human-to-animal transmissions," added Li, who works at a research institute affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

UNC lab accidents are only a tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of lab mistakes, safety violations and near-miss incidents occurred in biological laboratories coast to coast in recent years, which put scientists, their colleagues and sometimes even the public at risk, Global Times reported, citing a USA Today investigation in 2015.

The Wikipedia page for biosecurity lab leaks offers an extensive list of lab leaks and other incidents in many countries, including no less than 11 lab breaches in the U.S..

The international community clearly views the U.S., which has been hyping up the "lab-leak theory" and engaging in groundless attacks against China, as a major suspect responsible for leaking COVID-19, one insider told Global Times.

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'Lab-leak' theory used to divert attention, says U.S. scholar

Driven by the political need to smear and suppress others, the U.S. has been busy muddying the waters, engaged in stigmatization and turning COVID-19 origin-tracing study into a political weapon, Zhao said on Friday.

With a more mature environment of lab virus synthesizing and operating, as well as virus leakage cases in history, the COVID-19 was obviously more likely leaked from the U.S. labs if the lab-leak claim is true, said Li.

"We appeal to the WHO to put U.S. labs, including the one located at UNC, into its second phase investigation," Li told Global Times.

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