A Chinese medical expert has suggested that the US may have obtained a specimen of the novel coronavirus before China did, raising the possibility that Washington had known about the disease before Beijing.
Dr Chen Xuyan from Beijing claimed that the first possible vaccine had entered clinical trials in America ‘way too quickly’.
She made the comments on state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday after a team in Seattle injected the first shots of an immunisation candidate into humans.
Beijing also announced on Monday that it had granted permission for its researchers to perform clinical tests for a possible coronavirus vaccine, which is being developed by the nation’s top military bio-warfare expert.
Dr Chen Xuyan (pictured), the director of the ICU Department of Beijing Tsinghua Chang Gung Hospital, expressed her surprise at how quickly American researchers were developing coronavirus vaccines on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday
A pharmacist gives a woman a shot in a first-stage clinical trial for a potential coronavirus vaccine on Monday at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle
Chinese scientists extracted the first known specimen of the virus from a patient on January 6 shortly after the epidemic emerged in Wuhan.
China’s National Microbiology Data Center, part of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, shared the first set of pictures of the virus online on January 24.
Dr Chen, the director of the ICU Department of Beijing Tsinghua Chang Gung Hospital, said in CCTV talk show ‘Today’s Focus’: ‘The progress of our domestic vaccines is steady… I am very surprised to hear about the first shot of a vaccine into a human body in America. Judging from [the timeline], it is way too quickly.’
She claimed that she had not heard about any animal tests performed by the US side, and even if the information had been withheld, the clinical trials still happened ‘too early’.
A pharmacist talks to a colleague as they prepare syringes of the potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease that’s caused by the new coronavirus, on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle
Dr Chen added: ‘The development of a vaccine needs to follow a series of international law and technical standard, there are steps that you cannot jump over.
‘Therefore, there is a timeline to follow.’
The programme’s host, Lu Jian, then suggested that researchers would need to receive a sample of the virus before developing a vaccine.
In response, Dr Chen said: ‘You would need to carry out pharmaceutical research to obtain the parameters, and then run repeated animal tests to prove its effectiveness and safety.
‘In particular, it is a process of trial and error to understand the emergence of antibodies and the stability [of the vaccine].
‘And then, you would cautiously inject it into a human body.’
She reiterated her surprise: ‘Therefore, the injection in America today, I feel it is very, very, very quick… Let’s guess… unless it started to prepare for this very early.’
Host Lu added: ‘Unless you (the United States) had got the virus specimen earlier [than China].’
‘Yes,’ replied Dr Chen.
President Donald Trump on Thursday again referred to the coronavirus as the ‘China virus’
Medical workers in protective suits move a patient at an isolated ward of a hospital in Caidian district on February 6 following an outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China
Dr Chen’s remarks come as China and the United States lock horns in a new diplomatic row regarding the origin of the contagion, which has killed more than 100,000 people worldwide.
A Beijing’s spokesperson last week heeded a conspiracy theory and claimed that the virus might have been brought to Wuhan by the US military.
While US President Trump repeatedly referred to the virus as ‘the Chinese virus’ and insisted that ‘it’s not racist at all’.
Beijing’s top coronavirus expert on Wednesday denied that the bug originated in Wuhan for the second time and slammed such claim as ‘irresponsible’.
‘The epidemic of the novel coronavirus pneumonia indeed took place in China, in Wuhan… but it does not mean its source is in Wuhan,’ said Dr Zhong Nanshan, the leader of a team of experts appointed by China to tackle the health crisis.
Dr Zhong, 83, said at a press conference that no evidence suggested the Wuhan was the origin of the bug.
‘It is a scientific problem. I think it is irresponsible to conclude lightly before [the matter] is clarified,’ the epidemiologist said at the 46th Coronavirus Prevention Media Conference hosted by the government of Guangzhou in southern China.
He made similar claims on February 27 after the number of daily cases in the country started to drop.
However in January when the epidemic spread fast in China, the country’s experts stated the source of the virus was wild animals sold at a seafood market in Wuhan.
Epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, 83, said at a press conference on Wednesday that no evidence suggested the virus originated in Wuhan. ‘The epidemic of the novel coronavirus pneumonia indeed took place in China, in Wuhan… but it does not mean its source is in Wuhan,’ he said
Chinese officials today reported no new cases in Wuhan, as well as its surrounding Hubei Province, for the first time after the epidemic emerged in late December. A worker is pictured disinfecting a hospital in Wuhan, the former epicentre of the global health crisis, on Thursday
A police officer stands guard outside of Huanan Seafood Wholesale market in Wuhan. Chinese experts have previously claimed that the source of the virus is wild animals sold at the market
With cases falling to zero in China but soaring abroad, Beijing is now rejecting the widely held assessment that the city of Wuhan is the birthplace of the outbreak.
China today reported no new domestic cases of coronavirus for the second day in a row, but the number of imported infections has risen to 228.
Statistics show infected travellers to China have spread to ever more provinces, adding pressure on authorities to toughen entry rules and health protocols.
Since Wednesday, China has registered no domestically transmitted cases of the virus that emerged in its central province of Hubei late last year.
Globally, more than 100,000 people have died from the deadly disease and over 250,000 have been infected.
China admitted the coronavirus originated in Wuhan in January
A woman walks in front of the closed Huanan wholesale seafood market on January 12
The push to question the origin of the disease contradicts China’s own initial assessment about the source of the virus, which has now killed nearly 5,000 people worldwide.
Gao Fu, head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in January ‘we now know the source of the virus is wild animals sold at the seafood market’ in Wuhan.
Chinese authorities themselves saw Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province as a threat as they placed the region of 56 million people under strict quarantine to contain the epidemic.
But Beijing began sowing doubts in late February, when Zhong Nanshan, a respected expert affiliated with the National Health Commission, told reporters ‘the epidemic first appeared in China, but didn’t necessarily originate in China’.
Scientists, however, have long suspected that the virus jumped from an animal at the Wuhan market to a human before spreading globally.
The World Health Organization has said that while the exact path the virus took between its animal source and humans is still unclear, COVID-19 was ‘unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019’.
Christl Donnelly, a professor of statistical epidemiology at Imperial College London, said genetic analysis of coronavirus samples collected from around the world showed a common ancestor in China.
‘This is not in any way blaming a particular country,’ she told AFP.