On December 14, China’s embassy in France published a transcript of Ambassador Lu Shaye’s press conference with an association for diplomatic correspondents. The meeting took place on December 7 in Paris, and covered a wide range of issues, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to China’s efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lu tried to falsely portray protests that recently erupted in China against stringent pandemic-related lockdown measures as a “color revolution.”
Asked whether there had been progress in identifying the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, he dug up an old conspiracy theory.
“In fact, as early as July (2019), the U.S. military's biolab in Fort Detrick was shut down following an accident,” he said.
“Soon after that, cases of pneumonia emerged in the area. At the time, people did not know what disease that pneumonia was. Then the [former] head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admitted in Congress in March 2020 that those were COVID-19 cases.”
Lu referenced the 2019 Military World Games held in Wuhan, China, where an outbreak of COVID-19 was first reported in December of that year.
“Five American military athletes fell ill and were picked up by an American charter plane,” he said. “It was October, and two months later, [COVID-19] cases were detected in Wuhan. We know that the novel coronavirus has an incubation period of at least two weeks. It’s unlikely that the virus had already existed in Wuhan and [infections] led to the U.S. underperformance in the Games. Is it even possible that the U.S. soldiers were infected as soon as they arrived in Wuhan?”
Lu was then asked if he believed “the Americans brought COVID-19 to China.” He said, “[Y]ou can think for yourself and draw conclusions. I only provide facts.”
Rather than “provide facts,” Lu repeated falsehoods and a conspiracy theory that has been thoroughly debunked by Polygraph.info and others.
Let’s take Lu’s claims point by point.
First, in July 2019, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for research to be halted at the U.S. Army lab at Fort Detrick, located in Frederick, Maryland, after safety concerns were raised over the institute’s chemical-based decontamination process.
Published reports indicate no one was exposed to pathogens and nothing leaked outside of the facility. The lab fully reopened in March 2020.
Lu then tried to link Fort Detrick with a rash of illnesses in the area. Chinese state media have previously raised suspicions over a respiratory disease outbreak in July 2019 at a Springfield, Virginia retirement community some 97 kilometers away from the U.S. Army facility.
Health officials, however, tested specimens collected during that outbreak and found several bacteria, including Haemophilus influenzae and rhinovirus, “the cause of the common cold.”
They did not find traces of COVID-19.
What’s more, former CDC Director Robert Redfield never told the U.S. Congress those cases were linked to COVID-19.
On March 11, 2022, during a U.S. House (of Representatives) Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on coronavirus response, then-California Democratic Representative Harley Rouda asked Redfield if it was possible that people in the United States who appeared to be dying from influenza were actually dying from COVID-19.
Redfield said, “Some cases have actually been diagnosed in the United States that way today.”
Redfield never said when or where those cases were documented and made no reference to Fort Detrick or any cases in the surrounding area.
Next, there is no evidence five U.S. military athletes became ill at the 2019 Military World Games in Wuhan and were flown back to the United States.
Polygraph.info thoroughly covered this issue in August 2021, after Chinese state media attempted to spread that conspiracy theory.
To recap, local Chinese media at that time reported on five foreign athletes becoming sick during the Games.
On February 23, 2020, Zhang Dingyu, director of Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital (where the athletes were treated), told local media the incident “had nothing to do with COVID-19,” and speculation otherwise “doesn’t even deserve debunking.”
Local media reported that two of the five sick athletes were from Africa, The nationalities of the other athletes did not come up, and no mention was made of American athletes.
China never provided evidence that the U.S. military scrambled planes to pick up sick athletes and return them to the U.S. for treatment prior to the Games coming to an end.
Local media reported that two of the foreign athletes who fell ill expressed appreciation to hospital staff for their treatment, contradicting claims anyone was medically evacuated to another country. China has never provided medical records or passport information about the five athletes.
Lu also said that as “the most powerful military” in the world,” it was “weird” the U.S. military athletes performed relatively poorly at the Games.
“We can't say that because the virus had already appeared in Wuhan at that time, the United States did not get a good ranking in the military games. Could it be that American soldiers were infected as soon as they arrived in Wuhan?” Lu asked.
Yes, the United States only received eight medals in the 2019 Military World Games, but that’s two more medals than the U.S. team received in either the 2015 Military World Games or the 2011 Military World Games.
Why the U.S. underperforms at the Military World Games is a matter of discussion that has no relation to the origins of COVID-19.
Meantime, investigations into the origins of COVID-19 continue. Debate still rages over whether COVID-19 emerged in nature and was transmitted from an animal to humans or was leaked from a lab.
Many who believe COVID-19 is not natural in origin argue the virus which causes it leaked from the network of laboratories operated by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where SARS-related coronaviruses were studied. SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
China has vehemently denied that.
On December 14, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed the need to understand how the pandemic began.
“We continue to call on China to share the data and conduct the studies that we have requested, to better understand the origins of this virus,” Tedros said.
“As I have said many times, all hypotheses remain on the table.”
Tedros previously said China had withheld information from a WHO-led team dispatched to Wuhan in January-February 2021 to get to the bottom of the pandemic.
China would later reject WHO calls to audit laboratories in Wuhan.