(CNSNews.com) – As China’s state media continue to promote unfounded theories about the origins of the coronavirus outbreak that first emerged in Wuhan late last year, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) newspaper drew attention over the weekend to an obscure petition asking the U.S. government if a U.S. Army laboratory was the source of the virus.
The People’s Daily noted that a petition had been posted to the White House “We the People” website this month asking the government to disclose “the real reason” for the closure last summer of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, in Fort Detrick, Md.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman earlier this month posted tweets promoting an article on a conspiracy website which pointed to the lab closure and insinuated that the U.S. Army had taken the coronavirus to Wuhan last fall, when the Chinese city hosted the World Military Games.
The State Department summoned the Chinese ambassador over the tweets, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call with a senior CCP official reprimanded Beijing for what he described as “disinformation and outlandish rumors.”
The petition author, identified merely as “B.Z.” strung together a series of what he or she called “conspicuous events” and then concluded that the government should “publish the real reason for the close [sic] of Fort Detrick, to clarify whether the laboratory is the research unit for the new coronavirus ‘COVID19’ and whether there is a virus leak.”
The alleged “events” included the closure of the facility at Fort Detrick last July, a global pandemic simulation exercise last October “with the participation of the Deputy Director of CIA,” and flu that “killed more than 10,000 people” last August.
It’s not clear what “B.Z” was referring to by the claim of 10,000 deaths last August, but that figure featured in news reporting earlier this year in connection with flu deaths in the U.S. during the 2019-2020 flu season – which in the northern hemisphere begins not in August but in the late fall and typically peaks in January or February.
The pandemic simulation exercise, co-hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, followed previous such pandemic or contagion simulations, held in May 2018, January 2015, and June 2001.
The 15 exercise players did not include a “Deputy Director of [the] CIA” but did include a former deputy CIA director (in the Obama administration) and the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
(In response to questions in January, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security put out a release making clear that the exercise had not predicted the current outbreak, and that the data used in its modeling were not similar to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.)
The central theme to the petition posted by “B.Z.” related to the closure of the U.S. Army lab.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) did have a temporary hold on research last summer after CDC inspectors found areas of concern including wastewater decontamination system processes.
The lab made clear that no infectious pathogens had been found outside authorized areas, local media reported at the time.
USAMRIID public affairs officer Caree Vander Linden said in response to queries this week that the research activities had begun to resume with CDC’s approval last November.
“USAMRIID experienced some facilities challenges that affected our biosafety posture. We had a temporary suspension of research in July 2019 while we worked to overcome these challenges, put new systems and procedures in place, and re-train our personnel,” she said in an email.
“In November 2019, we were given the go-ahead by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to gradually resume research activities,” Vander Linden said. “Currently, each set of studies is reviewed and approved before the work begins. It will take some time to come back to full operations, but we are working toward that goal, with safety as the #1 priority.”
Fort Detrick commanding officer Brig. Gen. Michael Talley early this month described the problems identified by CDC as “work-arounds that just were not safe.”
“There was never any danger of risk to the community, or breaking the containment which is what the labs are for,” he told a Pentagon briefing.
Talley said the CDC had carried out a second inspection just in February.
“This inspection was to allow even more capabilities, more capacity to be performed,” he said. “Again, proud to say a night-and-day difference according to the CDC and we were issued a letter to restore even higher level capabilities.”
A White House “We the People” petition must attract 100,000 signatures in a 30-day period to earn a formal response from the administration.
As of early Monday, the petition on Fort Detrick had been signed by just 919 people in 13 days. It would need another 99,081 signatures by April 9 in order to get a response.