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Coronavirus Pandemic: A Glimpse of Top Bio-Safety Level Lab in Wuhan

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The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been at the center of COVID-19 speculations across the world. Some of the theories say that the coronavirus originated from its lab and that its researchers secretly sold experimental animals in the wet market. CGTN reporter Hu Chao visited the Institute’s top bio-safety level lab and talked to a senior lab official there who dismissed the accusations.

In the outskirts of the city, one can find the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab housed within the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

HU CHAO CGTN “This national biosafety laboratory runs two levels of labs, P3 and P4. The P4 lab, the biosafety level 4 lab, is the top level. And for many, it may seem a bit mysterious. What does it look like and what happens inside? Now let’s find out.”

The letter “P” stands for pathogen, the higher the number after it, the more dangerous the pathogen.

A rating of P4 designates a lab as a maximum-security area. And the Wuhan bio-lab is one of few in the world with such a rating. Its director recalls how it was established.

YUAN ZHIMING Director, Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory “The SARS outbreak in 2003 exposed weaknesses in China’s public health system. That was when we decided to start building a high-level biosafety lab.”

It was a project between China and France, one that took 15 years to complete. The lab became fully operational by 2018. So why did it take such a long time?

YUAN ZHIMING Director, Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory “Aside from the technical complexities, we also had to set up relevant management systems and train relevant personnel to ensure safe operations. In 2018, we finally got national accreditation for experimental activities in the lab. This meant that China would have its own lab for research on deadly viruses. And China’s biosafety lab system began to take shape.”

Only qualified personnel are allowed inside the P4 lab, all of whom must have extensive biosafety training and experience.

As visitors, we were granted special access after identity and security checks. With the help of a staff member at the lab, we entered the P4 lab, but found ourselves confined to the hallways due to security requirements.

YUAN ZHIMING Director, Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory “A P4 lab comes with a biosafety platform to ensure researchers are safe from the pathogens they work on and that the pathogens stay within the lab. We have a complex system for electricity, air filtration, emergency shower, automations, fire safety and life support. All these facilities work to ensure a negative-pressure confined space.”

The P4 lab is mainly used for research on deadly viruses, especially those without a known cure or a vaccine. It can take nearly half an hour for each person to enter or exit the lab.

Personnel must wear positive-pressure suits, which feature hoses for breathable air. All waste items will undergo biosafety disposal and sterilization via high temperature and pressure facilities.

YUAN ZHIMING Director, Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory “Without authorization, not even a mosquito can sneak into the lab and none of our researchers can take even a drop of water or a piece of paper out of the lab. So, when some people speculated that we might take the experimental animals out to sell or that these animals might escape from our lab, they actually had no idea about the management and operations of our lab.”

A comprehensive safety check is conducted every year. The lab’s compound covers an area of more than 3,000 square meters. Its core area is over 1,000 square meters.

YUAN ZHIMING Director, Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory “In fact, the lab is like a box within a box. People might envision it as a secretive black box. But as you can see, it’s a very open and transparent lab. People from the outside can see what goes on inside and vice versa. We hope to make it a platform for international exchanges and to see more foreign scientists come to work in our lab.”

Expectedly, Yuan gave his two cents on the theory that COVID-19 originated from the Wuhan lab.

YUAN ZHIMING Director, Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory “Our lab has been operating safely and in compliance with regulations and laws. There have been no accidents of pathogen leaks or human infections. An outbreak and pandemic caused by any infectious disease is bound to be the focus of public attention. Because of the fear and feeling of helplessness and also the lack of information, many people would naturally link an area’s outbreak to its nearest lab. As they learn more about the situation and the lab, rumors will gradually dissipate.”

Yuan says the conspiracy theories have put many of the lab’s researchers under stress, even amid increased efforts to fight against it.

YUAN ZHIMING Director, Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory “All the scientific personnel, though being wronged and stressed, have been fully devoted themselves to the race against the virus. We’ve achieved good results in animal model establishment, vaccine development and antiserum production. Our test kits have been approved for production and application. Our results on antiviral drug screenings have also been included in the COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment protocols.”

Yuan also says an inactivated vaccine against COVID-19 developed by the Wuhan Institute of Virology has now entered the third phase of clinical trials. Hu Chao, CGTN, Wuhan.

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First Batch of Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine Lands in Serbia

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The first batch of one million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Beijing-based pharmaceutical company Sinopharm arrived in Belgrade, Serbia at 9:50 a.m. local time on Saturday.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, local officials, and Chinese Ambassador to Serbia Chen Bo received the consignment at Nikola Tesla International Airport in Belgrade.

Vucic said that the arrival of the vaccine is “proof of the great friendship between Serbia and China,” and it will help protect the lives of 500,000 people, adding he will also get vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine.

The vaccinations will start once the Chinese vaccine gets a final approval by Serbia’s Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices.

“As an ordinary person and the president of Serbia, I am convinced of the quality of the Chinese vaccine, which will be decided by our competent agency,” Vucic said.

Serbia has also purchased Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine as well as a jab jointly developed by America’s Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

The country started its COVID-19 vaccination drive late last month, and so far the country has obtained around 1.4 million doses of vaccines.

Nearly 370,000 COVID-19 infections have been reported in Serbia, while 3,708 people have died. A total of 5,409 patients are hospitalized across the country, of whom 196 have been put on respiratory ventilators.

During the pandemic, aside from providing medical supplies, China sent a medical expert team to Serbia which stayed there for months to help Serbian authorities coordinate the country’s anti-pandemic response, and the Chinese BGI group, a genome research company, also assisted the country build two “Fire Eye” testing labs.

Chinese Ambassador Chen said that Serbia and China are fighting the coronavirus side by side, and “China is the first country in the world to promise that its vaccine will be a global public good.”

“The Sinopharm vaccine was officially registered in China on December 30, and it arrived in Serbia only after 16 days. The arrival of the Chinese vaccine is part of our joint fight against the virus, and I believe it will contribute to fighting the epidemic in Serbia,” Chen said.

(With input from Xinhua)

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Infrastructure For Tomorrow: Interview With AIIB Vice President On Response To Future Challenges

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WHO Spokesperson Reveals Details Of Its Expert Team Visit To Wuhan

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Even as vaccines are rolled out, COVID-19 continues to ravage the world, having caused nearly 2 million deaths. The situation is in dire need of stronger global cooperation. That spirit can be at least reflected by the latest World Health Organization (WHO) expert team’s visit to China which will start in Wuhan, where the first cases of infections in China were reported.

“This is about understanding what happened so that the world can be better equipped as the world to prevent it happening again,” said WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris in an exclusive interview with CGTN host Tian Wei. She stressed that the field trip is “not about finding someone to blame. Let’s leave the politics out of it.”

Dr. Harris revealed that preparations about the mission started last October. There were a few virtual meetings held since then. This trip will be about a wide variety of subjects related to the discovery research of the origins of COVID-19. While no quick answers are expected.

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The WHO team of 10 experts from 10 different countries are expected to visit the Chinese city Wuhan, where cases of infections were first reported at the end of 2019. Yet later discoveries found the presence of the virus in Spain, Italy and the U.S., demonstrating how much is still unknown about the virus.

While the world is bogged down by this pandemic, there appear a few COVID-19 vaccine candidates that have been developed at unprecedented speed. But that very fact has made people uneasy: was it developed too fast? Are those vaccines trustworthy?

“People should be concerned about the safety issues,” noted Dr. Harris, but she explained that one thing that has really slowed down vaccine development in the past was getting the funding for the studies, and this time that part got ample support.

Harris said that only after very careful review of data on issues of safety and efficacy, and visiting manufacturing factories, would the WHO put a vaccine on its Emergency Use Listing (EUL). So far only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received the validation at the end of last year, but more announcements could be made as soon as in the next few weeks, according to Harris. Among those are candidates coming from Sinopharm and Sinovac, two Chinese vaccine developers.

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The COVAX program was set up by the WHO with GAVI, the vaccine alliance, to help distribute vaccines to more countries. China joined COVAX last year.

Out of the 42 countries that are rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, 36 are high-income countries and six middle-income countries. “So there’s a clear problem that low- and most middle-income countries are not receiving the vaccine yet,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier this month.

“We are not happy that it’s not happening quickly enough,” said Harris, “but we determined to make it happen.”

World Insight with Tian Wei is an international platform for debate and intelligent discussion. It is the meeting point of both the highly influential and rising voices, facilitated by host Tian Wei. It provides nutrition to form your own thoughts and ideas through a 45-minute live debate and interviews.

Schedule: Monday-Saturday

Time (GMT): 1415, 2015

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com.)

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