The director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) ordered staff in January 2020 to “not discuss COVID-19,” according to a Guangzhou-based blogger’s social media post that is cited in a February 2020 U.S. State Department cable obtained by U.S. Right to Know. The WIV is at the center of debate surrounding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
The cable, which states that the blogger’s post “has since been blocked on social media,” adds to reports of Chinese government gag orders surrounding information about Covid-19, including revelations that Chinese Centers for Disease Control staff have been instructed not to share any information related to the new coronavirus with outside institutions or individuals.
The cable was among State Department records released in response to a U.S. Right to Know Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Other items in the records include:
- A March 2020 cable that observed the Chinese government has yet to conduct a Joint External Evaluation (JEE) — a voluntary peer-review process administered by the World Health Organization to help countries “determine their gaps and weaknesses in preparing for and responding to infectious disease risks.” Most countries that are party to the Global Health Security Agenda, including the U.S., Japan and Australia, have completed a JEE.
- A February 2020 cable reported that the U.S. Consulate’s South China Public Affairs Section (PAS) “media contacts discussed the rumors circulating on social media that a graduate of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is patient zero of COVID-19, which has been denied by the Institute.” Media reports say the Wuhan Institute of Virology has denied links between WIV and patient zero, but the Biden administration has confirmed prior State Department’s claims that “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019… with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
- A March 2020 cable analyzed the Chinese government and affiliated media’s messaging on Covid-19.
- Cables from August and October 2020 show the quasi-governmental role played by EcoHealth Alliance in Malaysia as an “implementing partner” of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s PREDICT program. EcoHealth Alliance is a New York-based nonprofit that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding for projects, which include genetically manipulating coronaviruses with scientists at WIV.
For more information
U.S. State Department records, which U.S. Right to Know obtained through ongoing FOIA litigation, can be found here: State Department Batch #4 (129 pages)
Background page on U.S. Right to Know’s investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
Written by Sainath Suryanarayanan