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China demands WHO investigate US Army base it baselessly claims leaked COVID

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases shown on Aug. 8, 2008 in Fort Detrick, Md. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
July 26, 2021

Last Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian raised new calls for the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate a U.S. Army base in Maryland as the potential point of origin for COVID-19. Zhao did not provide any proof for his claim, however, and his claims followed WHO’s push for more info about COVID-19’s origins in Wuhan, China.

Chinese state-run Global Times reported 5 million Chinese netizens had signed an open letter demanding WHO investigate the U.S. Army base at Fort Detrick, Md., which serves as the home of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).  The Chinese petition was started on July 17, two days after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there had been a “premature push” to rule out the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese virology lab in Wuhan and said, “If we get full information [from China], we can exclude that [lab leak theory].”

On Wednesday, Zhao praised the petition circulated by Chinese netizens following the WHO chief’s comments.

“Since the open letter was published on July 17, it has received encouraging responses from the Chinese people and endorsed by about 5 million people within 5 days,” Zhao said. “The increasing endorsement reflects the Chinese people’s aspiration and their anger in the political manipulation by some in the U.S. A probe into Fort Detrick is long overdue, but the US has not done it yet.”

“The mystery of Fort Detrick remains unexplained and shrouded by suspicions,” Zhao continued. “In July 2019, the U.S. CDC issued a ‘cease and desist order’ to halt most research at Fort Detrick. In the same month, there were reports on the unexplained outbreaks of respiratory disease in northern Virginia and on the subsequent EVALI outbreaks in Wisconsin. By the end of July, two retirement communities near the base experienced unexplained pneumonia outbreaks. In September, vaping-related lung illness cases doubled in Maryland where Fort Detrick is based. Even so, the U.S. CDC refused to release critical information regarding the base’s closure by citing ‘national security reasons.'”

Zhao said Fort Detrick also has “disturbing records and stains in history” such as its past documented research of biological warfare weapons and its recruitment after World War II of the head of Nazi Germany’s biological warfare lab and head of Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army, a chemical and biological warfare unit.

“According to U.S. media reports, Fort Detrick stores large amount of viruses that severely threaten people’s safety,” Zhao said. “What is the correlation between those incidents? When will the US make public explanations?”

Zhao said the Chinese petition represents an appeal from people all over the world and said the U.S. should “take concrete measures to thoroughly investigate the origins of the virus at home” and “thoroughly investigate the reason of its botched response.”

Zhao and other Chinese officials have previously tried to blame Fort Detrick for the outbreak of COVID-19 amid growing suspicion the virus actually originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Zhao began raising the allegations against the U.S. Army in March 2020. Since then, other Chinese officials have returned to the unfounded claim.

In May, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the U.S. of engaging in research that could be used in biowarfare and bioterrorism. To support her claims, Hua claimed U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Ainscough wrote that the bioweapons are part of U.S. Air Force projects to counter weapons of mass destruction.

Ainscough did author a 2002 report detailing the threat of biological weapons. The report makes no specific mention of offensive U.S. biological weapons programs but does describe a Pentagon plan to duplicate Russian anthrax agents as a means to develop an anthrax vaccine. Ainscough wrote the report’s purpose is to “provide information and analysis to assist the understanding of the U.S. national security policy-makers and USAF officers to help them better prepare to counter the threat from weapons of mass destruction.”

In 2019, the Independent reported the U.S. discontinued research on offensive biological weapons in 1969, but that Fort Detrick had continued defensive research into deadly pathogens, including Ebola and the highly toxic poison ricin. The Independent reported the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered Fort Detrick to suspend some of its defensive research in the summer of 2019, over fears a new water decontamination system would be insufficient to prevent wastewater contamination. A Fort Detrick spokeswoman, Caree Vander Linden, told the Independent there had not been any threat to public health or any leaks of hazardous material outside the base.