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February 24, 2024

China Experiments with Highly Lethal COVID Strain, Raising Biosecurity Concerns

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Jan 21, 2024

Chinese scientists have reportedly created a new mutant COVID-19 strain that is highly lethal in humanized mice, killing 100% of subjects in lab experiments. The development has sparked renewed concerns over gain-of-function research and weak biosafety protocols in China, as experts warn such experiments could lead to accidental releases or weaponization.

Key Details

  • Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing engineered the new virus by combining the spike protein from Omicron with the backbone of the original COVID-19 strain first detected in Wuhan (Source 1, Source 2)
  • The mutant virus killed 100% of infected humanized mice, which are genetically modified to carry human genes, proteins, or tissues, within four to five days (Source 3)
  • Researchers acknowledged the “high pathogenicity” of the strain and the risk it could spill over into human populations (Source 4)
Strain Details
Spike Protein Source Omicron Variant
Backbone Original Wuhan Strain
Mortality Rate in Mice 100%
Timeline to Death 4-5 days

Expert Backlash

The research has prompted a backlash from biosecurity experts, who view it as dangerous and unethical “gain-of-function” experimentation.

  • British epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding called it “madness” and evidence China had “learned no lessons” from the pandemic (Source 5)
  • Australian professor Nikolai Petrovsky said “no justification” exists for creating lethal pathogens and warned they could be used as bioweapons (Source 6)
  • Virologist Angela Rasmussen criticized inadequate biosafety protocols and called for an investigation (Source 7)

The controversy builds on long-running concerns over risky experimentation and poor laboratory safety in China, issues many critics say were never resolved even after two WHO investigations of COVID-19 origins proved inconclusive.

Ominous Parallels

There are ominous parallels between this new mutant strain and the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Both viruses appear to have been created via gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (Source 8)
  • The high lethality rate and rapid onset of illness mirrors early accounts of COVID-19 infecting WIV staff in autumn 2019 (Source 9)
  • Using humanized mice to test viruses’ pathogenic potential in humans preceded SARS-CoV-2 work (Source 10)

Many experts thus worry this new outbreak of risky viral tinkering could again lead to an accidental lab leak sparking another pandemic.

Calls for International Action

In light of the latest revelations, analysts argue more forceful international action is needed to rein in gain-of-function experimentation globally.

  • Former US State Department official David Asher said the research shows China has “learned absolutely nothing” and vindicates lab leak theories (Source 11)
  • Hong Kong microbiologist Allen Cheng said global biosafety reforms are now “imperative” to “avoid catastrophe”
  • Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Fergus Hanson argued only international sanctions can rein in China’s “deadly viral experiments” (Source 12)

Proposals include implementing strict verification mechanisms for gain-of-function research, closing international loopholes allowing risky experimentation, and developing rapid response protocols in case of lab accidents. Failure to act more decisively now, analysts say, risks fueling the next pandemic.

What Comes Next?

With the revelations of the new viral strain still fresh, predicting precise next steps remains difficult. However, based on initial reactions and past experience, we can expect:

  • Continued expert backlash – More scientists will likely speak out against gain-of-function experiments and weak oversight, keeping the biosecurity threat posed by risky research in focus internationally.
  • Demands for greater transparency – Governments worldwide will likely increase demands for more transparency surrounding viral experiments in China, including closer monitoring of labs like the WIV.
  • WHO investigation – Another WHO-led probe focused on Chinese biosafety issues appears plausible, though its effectiveness would depend heavily on Beijing’s cooperation.
  • Geopolitical tensions – The lab leak hypotheses around both COVID-19 and this new viral strain could heighten US-China tensions, as Washington may threaten sanctions absent verifiable safeguards.

In essence, this saga will continue fueling the intense debates surrounding pandemic origins while also increasing pressure on world leaders to curb dangerous experimentation. Without genuine reforms, experts caution, this ominous game of viral roulette seems destined to continue – raising the risk of man-made pandemics striking again and again.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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