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Lab suspends H5N1 bird flu work on new China rules

by 5m Editor
26 July 2005, at 12:00am

CHINA - A laboratory jointly run by universities in Hong and China said on Tuesday it had suspended studies into the H5N1 bird flu virus after Beijing issued new guidelines which triggered fears of a crackdown on academic freedom and independent research into the deadly disease.

Lab suspends H5N1 bird flu work on new China rules - CHINA - A laboratory jointly run by universities in Hong and China said on Tuesday it had suspended studies into the H5N1 bird flu virus after Beijing issued new guidelines which triggered fears of a crackdown on academic freedom and independent research into the deadly disease.

The new rules were issued on May 30, five days after the Joint Influenza Research Centre sent an article to the international journal Nature which said that infected wild birds in western China might have picked up the virus from poultry farms in southern China.

A day after the article was published, Jia Youling, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture's Veterinary Bureau, criticised the findings and said no bird flu had broken out in southern China this year.

In comments carried on Xinhua's Web site, Jia also said the joint laboratory lacked "the basic conditions for biological safety" and had not obtained government approval for carrying out bird flu virus research, even though it had initially been empowered by Beijing to study the disease.

The new regulations require laboratories to obtain permission from the ministry before they can carry out research on deadly pathogens and restrict studies into H5N1 to three government laboratories.

A statement by the research centre, which is sponsored by the University of Hong Kong and Shantou University, said it was in full compliance with the World Health Organisation's safety guidelines for work on bird flu viruses, but had suspended work on the H5N1 strain while it applied for government permission.

The H5N1 virus has killed more than 50 people in Asia since late 2003 and health experts fear it could kill millions around the world if it mutates into a form that could easily spread from person to person.

"The Joint Centre has also made an application to MoA (Ministry of Agriculture) for permission to work on 'highly pathogenic micro-pathogens' in order to ensure all research is conducted within the legal requirements," the research centre said in a statement.

A University of Hong Kong spokeswoman could not immediately comment on Tuesday if the ministry had put pressure on the laboratory to halt its H5N1 research.

The agriculture ministry in Beijing declined to comment.

China faced criticism for covering up the initial outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in late 2002. SARS quickly spread around the world, infecting over 8,000 people and killing around 800 of them.

However, the WHO recently praised Beijing's commitment to battling bird flu, which made the first known jump to humans in Hong Kong in 1997.

Source: Reuters - 26th July 2005

5m Editor