FORBIDDEN: Leading Hong Kong Microbiologist Retracts Op-Ed Claiming Pandemic Began in Wuhan

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung apologises for writing that ‘inferior Chinese culture’ is to blame. But the controversy has already triggered a reaction on the mainland.

Gary Cheung and Elizabeth Cheung report: A world-renowned microbiologist has stepped into a political minefield by writing an op-ed about the origin and naming of the coronavirus sweeping the world, expressing views that aligned with the Trump administration’s rhetoric over the pandemic and left him in the cross hairs of mainland Chinese.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Hong Kong, retracted late Wednesday night the piece he co-wrote and which Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper had published and ran online earlier that day.

The authors also apologised for the misunderstanding caused by the piece, titled: “The pandemic originated from Wuhan and the lessons from 17 years ago have been forgotten.”

They argued that the idea the novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 originated in the United States is “unsubstantiated”.

“It amounts to self-deceit and please don’t spread it recklessly. It would only invite ridicule,” they wrote.

Yuen, who is also an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, visited Wuhan with other doctors at the invitation of the central government in mid-January as part of an expert group that later confirmed the coronavirus was spreading between people.

Quarantine personnel in protective gear collect samples at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan on January 22. Photo: Simon Song

The other author was Yuen’s protégé, Dr David Lung, an honorary assistant professor with the department of microbiology of the University of Hong Kong, who is also a clinical microbiologist specialising in paediatric infectious diseases at the Hong Kong Children’s Hospital.

They wrote that epidemiological studies indicated the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, Hubei province, was where the virus spread.

The article went on to defend the media’s early references to the “Wuhan virus”, despite the World Health Organisation labelling the disease Covid-19 and the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses naming the virus Sars-Cov-2.

Yuen and Lung argued “Wuhan virus” was a layman’s term established through convention and usage, one that was easy to understand and communicate to people.

But perhaps the most inflammatory claim was contained in their criticism of China for failing to shut wildlife markets in the aftermath of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003. They said the trade and consumption of wild animals was a manifestation of the “inferior culture” of Chinese people.

The op-ed also noted Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and the Republic of China – the title Taiwan officially uses – had been spared the worst of the outbreak, which is now raging throughout Europe and sweeping across the United States.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province, and by Wednesday afternoon, Ming Pao had added a note at the end of the article saying the two authors had changed “Republic of China” to “Taiwan”. The authors’ original wording in the body of the text remained unchanged.

Upon retracting the piece, Yuen and Lung said that their lifelong ambition was to pursue scientific truth and that they had no intention of getting involved in politics. They apologised for “inappropriate” expressions and “some wrong use of words”, as well as the misunderstanding caused, their statement said … (read more)

Source: South China Morning Post



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