The shipment to communist China of live Ebola and Henipah viruses by Chinese scientists in August 2019, before they were expelled by police from the National Microbiology Laboratory where they worked in Winnipeg, Canada, raises new questions as research continues.
According to Reuters, the Canadian Public Health Agency has not confirmed whether the March 31, 2019, shipment was part of the investigation that ordered the RCMP to look into “possible policy breaches” and led to the cancellation of the security clearance of Chinese researcher Xiangguo Qiu, her husband Keding Cheng, and several Chinese students under her care.
Ebola and Henipah are considered some of the deadliest infectious diseases on the planet. Classified as level 4 pathogens, only laboratories meeting the highest biosafety standards, such as Winnipeg, can contain them.
Although the Canadian government stated that the transfer of the strains to Beijing was carried out on a commercial Air Canada flight in compliance with all federal policies and that public safety has not been put at risk, several sources suggested to CBC News that they could have been sent to communist China bypassing normal procedures and without documentation protecting Canada’s intellectual property rights.
The patent war
In October 2019, it was revealed that former Winnipeg Vaccine Development Manager Xiangguo Qiu—who remains affiliated with Tianjin University in China, where she earned her doctorate—made at least five trips to China between 2017 and 2018 “funded by third parties,” including one to train scientists and technicians shortly after China’s Level 4 laboratory was certified, according to documents cited by CBC News.
“It’s not right that she’s a Canadian government employee providing details of top-secret work and know-how to set up a high-containment lab for a foreign nation,” determined a Winnipeg lab employee who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, noting that Qiu’s trips to China always raised questions about what information and technology she shared.
“If China was leveraging these scientists in Canada to gain access to a potentially valuable pathogen or to elements of a virus without having to license the patent … it makes sense with the idea of China trying to gain access to valuable IP without paying for it,” said Leah West, who practices, studies, and publishes in the field of national security law and lectures at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, according to CBC News.
“I think there will need to be an inquiry into the scientists to potentially see whether or not they were compromised or any elements of their work were compromised and that China gained illegal or improper access to Canadian intellectual property … to see what China may have gained access to without knowledge, prior to this incident,” West concluded.
Visits to China ‘funded by third parties’
Qiu—who helped develop the Zmapp vaccine against Ebola—visited the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Bejing Institute of Biotechnology, and gave several lectures, during her trips to China.
In her defense, Jia Wang, the deputy director of the Institute of China at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, asked for patience until the results of the ongoing police investigation were known, acknowledging that although the Chinese communist regime had been involved in cases of espionage and intellectual property theft, it had now changed its ways.
“In an increasingly globalized world, in an increasingly globalized field of research, we do see more exchanges and more visits incoming and outgoing,” Wang described normalizing collaboration between academics from different countries.
It is worth mentioning that recently up to 59 people have been hospitalized in the city of Wuhan, in China, due to a still unidentified virus that causes pneumonia, reported CNN.
The virus has not claimed any lives so far, but the country’s authorities have raised the alert level and assure that it is not due to already known diseases like SARS.