At least two Chinese universities published and then deleted notices on new censorship rules that could squelch research into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report.
The new rules for research of COVID-19 are heightening criticism of China’s government, whose alleged under-count of cases is blamed for hindering global preparation. The research policies were first reported Saturday by The Guardian, which said a tipster alerted the newspaper to cached versions.
An April 5 notice posted by the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) said a university academic committee would review research into the origin of the virus “with an emphasis on checking the accuracy of the thesis, as well as whether it is suitable for publication” before turning it over to the authorities to review.
“When the checks have been completed, the school should report to the Ministry of Science and Technology, and it should only be published after it has [also] been checked by MOST,” the notice said.
An April 9 notice posted by Fudan University in Shanghai said that, according to the central government’s State Council, “Papers related to virus tracing should be managed strictly.” The memo outlined similar review steps.
Dr. Li Wenliang died from coronavirus after being reprimanded for being a whistleblower.AP
The Fudan notice says the State Council adopted the new policy on March 25, after the virus swept through Western Europe and the US, sickening hundreds of thousands of people and forcing most businesses to close.
A representative of the Shanghai-based school told CNN, “It is not supposed to be made public, it is an internal document.”
The Guardian reported that it received, but could not validate, a third document from the Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University that also said research into the origins of the virus had to be sent to Beijing for approval before publication.
The Chinese government recognizes fewer than 85,000 domestic cases of the virus, which first attracted global notice when China’s government notified the World Health Organization of a mysterious new bug on Dec. 31.
In December, a Wuhan doctor, Li Wenliang, who warned in an online chat room about a potential new virus was forced by police to sign a confession that he was “making false comments.”
“They are seeking to transform it from a massive disaster to one where the government did everything right and gave the rest of the world time to prepare,” Kevin Carrico, a senior research fellow of Chinese studies at Monash University, told The Guardian.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said at a recent press conference that she and other experts were unprepared for the scope of the crisis because the small number of cases reported in China indicated a less-infectious variety of coronavirus, such as SARS.
“The medical community interpreted the Chinese data as, this was serious, but smaller than anyone expected because, I think, probably we were missing a significant amount of the data,” Birx said.
Deborah BirxEPA/KEVIN DIETSCH / POOL
Chinese and US officials have sparred over blame for the virus. A Chinese government spokesman claimed the virus was a US bioweapon. President Trump said he retorted by calling it the “Chinese virus.”
There are nearly 2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide. The US has the most publicly acknowledged cases — about 560,000 — led by New York with 190,000. More than 22,000 US residents have died.