New Delhi: Chinese military’s top epidemiologist Major-General Chen Wei, who co-developed a single-shot Covid vaccine, had collaborated on Ebola research with a scientist who was later dismissed from a high-security laboratory in Canada, a new report has revealed.
According to Canadian daily The Globe and Mail, Major-General Chen had worked with Dr Xiangguo Qiu, a former scientist at Canada’s National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg, on two scientific papers on Ebola, published in 2016 and 2020. NML is the only Level 4 laboratory in Canada, which conducts research on the world’s deadliest diseases.
The report, published Thursday, noted that the Chinese Major-General’s identity was concealed and instead of revealing her connection to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), she was identified as just ‘Wei Chen’, an epidemiologist with a PhD degree who had earlier worked at the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology.
However, The Globe and Mail confirmed that both Wei Chen and Major General Chen are the same person.
The Chinese military scientist was also recently praised by President Xi Jinping for her contribution to the development of CanSino’s single-shot Covid vaccine.
Meanwhile, according to Public Health Agency of Canada, the country’s top federal health organisation, the NML did not have institutional agreements with the PLA.
“While the NML does not have institutional agreements with the Chinese military, Canada’s scientists have collaborated with Chinese scientists to contribute to the global public health fight against deadly diseases, such as Ebola. These collaborations have yielded vaccine and treatment candidates for diseases, as documented in peer-reviewed journals,” PHAC spokesperson Anne Génier told The Globe and Mail.
However, PHAC refused to release information on whether Major-General Chen had ever visited the Winnipeg lab, citing privacy laws.
Several opposition leaders also slammed the Justin Trudeau government for allegedly “covering up” information about the Chinese scientist and her connection to the NML.
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Dr Qiu’s dismissal
The connection between Major-General Chen and Dr Qiu was first brought to light by journalist Elaine Dewar, in her new book On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years: An investigation.
Dr Qiu and her husband, Keding Chang, were fired from their positions at the NML in January. However, the reasons for their dismissal have not been officially released.
Their security clearances, including some of Dr Qiu’s students at the lab were revoked in July 2019 — four months after the NML shipped Ebola and Henipah viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
In the same month, an investigation was also started by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on whether the two dismissed scientists had passed on intellectual property to China, including to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to The Globe and Mail.
This series of events has spiralled into the ‘Winnipeg-lab conspiracy theory’ in Canada, which indicates a purported connection between the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2019 shipment of samples to China.
However, this theory was dismissed by Dewar. “That particular conspiracy theory is nonsense, and there is absolutely no evidence to support it,” she told CBS News.
But the author commented on the cooperation between the two countries. “The co-operation raises questions about the kind of collaborations the sensitive government lab should undertake”.
“When you have military scientists involved, it becomes a larger question because it can be weaponised,” she added.
Meanwhile, Gary Kobinger, an infectious disease specialist who worked with Dr. Qiu until 2016 and shared an award with her, called Qiu “a very ethical person”.
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