A bat research team investigating coronavirus origins in China reportedly had their samples confiscated

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Tim O'Donnell
·2 min read
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Orders to monitor findings about the origins of the novel coronavirus come directly from President Xi Jinping, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal. Beijing is not shutting down the research — on the contrary, the government is spending a lot of money on study grants — but any new data are subject to approval by a government task force before publication.

That's not the only way Beijing is attempting to control the situation, per AP. In southern China, there's an entrance to a mine shaft that once harbored bats who hosted the closest known relative of the coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan and is believed to have caused the ongoing pandemic. As AP notes, the area is of "intense scientific interest" since it could hold clues to the virus' origins and potentially help prevent similar crises in the future. However, AP reports it's "become a black hole of no information" for journalists, who have been tailed by plainclothes police, and scientists, including a bat research team that collected samples, only to have them confiscated, two people familiar with the matter said.

Zhang Yongzhen, a renowned Chinese virologist, told AP no one has been able to definitively trace the virus back to its roots, and most scientists believe the virus did first jump from animals to humans in nature (as opposed to leaking from a lab). But Beijing's response highlights how politically sensitive the matter of origin is. China seemingly does not want to be blamed for the spread and has tried suggesting the virus originated elsewhere, pushing the theory through propaganda, misinterpreted or flawed scientific studies, and calls to look beyond China's borders. "The novel coronavirus has been discovered in many parts of the world," Chinese foreign ministry stated in a fax sent to AP. "Scientists should carry out international scientific research and cooperation on a global scale." Read more at The Associated Press.

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