More than 20 million people have signed an online letter to the World Health Organization demanding a thorough investigation into a secretive United States laboratory tainted by a poor safety record in order to gain a better understanding of the origins of the coronavirus.
Despite the loud voices of concern from China and other countries, the US government has remained silent on the possibility of a link between the Fort Detrick lab and the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It has refused to disclose critical information on the pretext of national security.
The Maryland lab, which has close connections with the US military, stores the mostly deadly and infectious viruses, including Ebola, SARS and the novel coronavirus. The facility has a notorious record on lab security, the letter said. There was a leakage incident in the lab in the autumn of 2019, right before the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic.
However, detailed information had been withheld by the US on what the letter stated was the excuse of national security grounds.
In order to figure out the origins of the virus to eliminate potential hazards for human beings, Chinese netizens called on the WHO "to organize an investigation in the Fort Detrick lab and other US labs that have leakage hazards by inviting scientists including those from China, virologists and experts in lab security and chemical weapons who are independent from US geopolitical influence", the letter said.
The lab was ordered to halt essential research in July 2019 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but no detailed reasons have been offered. However, mysterious illnesses were reported right before and after the closure.
Anwar Adams, a councilor in Cape Town, South Africa, said an investigation should be conducted into the Fort Detrick lab to determine the origin of SARS-CoV-2, given that the biosafety incidents that occurred at the lab coincided with the start of COVID-19 outbreaks.
In an article in the Pretoria News on Tuesday, Adams drew attention to reports suggesting that the anthrax bacterium had been stolen from the lab in the past, in addition to the concerns arising from the reports about the leakage incident in the autumn of 2019 just before the global COVID-19 outbreak.
One of the recommendations made by an international team visiting China on origin tracing was that future research should also be expanded to other locations outside China, he said.
"In particular, the Fort Detrick lab has been identified as one such location where serious origin-tracing of COVID-19 should be investigated," he said in the article. He added that the sustained politicization of origin-tracing and the propaganda against China point to one thing: The US has something to hide.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, at a news conference on Thursday, called on the US to respond to the appeal of the Chinese netizens, and allow experts from the WHO to conduct investigations into the origin of the novel coronavirus in the US, including in the Fort Detrick lab.
With increasing numbers of people signing the letter in support of a thorough investigation of the Fort Detrick lab, the server hosting the online petition has come under sustained cyberattacks from IP addresses in the US, said the Global Times, a newspaper that organized the petition.
In a news conference earlier this past week, Zhao said the US should offer an explanation for the cyberattacks, adding that the attacks exposed the US hypocrisy on cybersecurity.