February 22nd 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Coronavirus: China must answer hard questions

EDITORIAL Inquiry needed into medically transitioning children

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nationals leave the home paddock unattended

ENVIRONMENTALISM Bushfires are being used as fuel for green polling

GENDER POLITICS Senator Amanda Stoker takes a stand on transgenderism

RURAL AFFAIRS Drought loan scheme deficient in delivery

MANUFACTURING Renewables push puts aluminium smelters at risk

ENERGY Is agricultural biomass viable as an energy producer?

SOCIETY Cold is more lethal than heat worldwide

CLIMATE POLICY Adaptation: A better way to tackle global warming

LITERATURE AND SOCIETY The poetry of Distributism

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY What if the French had settled Australia?

HUMOUR Ern Malley Writers' Festival goes 'bang'

MUSIC Nina Simone: At the raw edge of pain

CINEMA Where wars intersect our lives: A Hidden Life, Midway

BOOK REVIEW Atheism with an Islamic cast gives way to the Catholic Church

BOOK REVIEW The janitor opened a door




CLIMATE POLITICS Business joins Big Brother in climate-change chorus

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COVER STORY Coronavirus: China must answer hard questions

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, February 22, 2020

The fact that China’s top virus research institute is located in Wuhan, the same city in which the coronavirus outbreak first appeared, raises questions which require answers.

Only a full disclosure of what has been going on at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where research has been carried out into the spread of the coronavirus from animals to humans, will satisfactorily resolve these concerns.

Since the identification of the new virus in China last December, at least 43,000 people have become infected, and over 1,000 have died.

After Chinese authorities stated that a link had been found between infected people and a market selling live wild animals, seafood and vegetables, the market was shut down and disinfected, effectively preventing any independent investigation into the source of the outbreak.

One reason why there are particular concerns about the Wuhan Institute of Virology is that, in 2015, scientists in the United States and China revealed they had created a new virus by combining a coronavirus found in Chinese horseshoe bats with another that causes human-like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in mice.

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, demonstrated that the coronavirus – a different strain to the one at the centre of the current outbreak, known as 2019-nCoV – was capable of infecting human airway cells.


At the time, the news reignited the debate around the morality of research involving dangerous pathogens and making them more dangerous. Experts questioned whether such research, which is no longer funded by the U.S. Government, was worth the risk.

“If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,” Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris told Nature at the time. Rutgers University molecular biologist Richard Ebright agreed, telling the publication: “The only impact of this work is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk.”

Two of the paper’s co-authors, Xing-Yi Ge and Zhengli-Li Shi, were based at the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the time.

Studies of the new coronavirus have revealed that over 90 per cent of its DNA is shared with a bat coronavirus.

U.S. Government officials have expressed concerns about the danger of viruses escaping from the Wuhan facility.

China’s history of handling coronaviruses gives further cause for concern. In April 2004, SARS (another coronavirus) escaped the Chinese Institute of Virology in Beijing, according to the World Health Organisation.

The Scientist magazine reported: “The latest outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, with eight confirmed or suspected cases so far and hundreds quarantined, involves two researchers who were working with the virus in a Beijing research lab, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday [April 26].”

“We suspect two people, a 26-year-old female postgraduate student and a 31-year-old male postdoc, were both infected, apparently in two separate incidents,” Bob Dietz, WHO spokesman in Beijing, told The Scientist.

Other laboratory escapes of SARS occurred in Taiwan and Singapore.

Another case involved the human H1N1 influenza virus, which first appeared with the 1918 global influenza pandemic, but eventually disappeared. It suddenly surfaced again in 1977 in the Soviet Union and China as the strain that had been dated to 1949-50, and for which young people no longer had resistance. Somehow it had escaped a laboratory and entered the general population.

It spread throughout the world, but because it was a mild strain of influenza, caused few fatalities.

A particular concern about the Chinese biotech facilities is that the Chinese Communist regime has stated that they are an integral part of China’s military machine.

China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences president He Fuchu said in 2015 that biomaterials were the new “strategic commanding heights” of warfare. He is now the academy’s vice-president.

And, in 2017, retired Chinese general Zhang Shibo wrote in his book, War’s New High Land, that “modern biotechnology development is gradually showing strong signs characteristic of an offensive capability”. This includes the potential for “specific ethnic genetic attacks”.

Apart from the need to treat the innocent victims of the current outbreak, the origin and spread of the latest coronavirus must be thoroughly investigated by reputable international experts, and the Beijing regime needs to provide convincing answers.

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