China has imposed new restrictions on academic research into the origins of COVID-19, CNN reported on Monday.
The new set of guidelines directs that “academic papers about tracing the origin of the virus must be strictly and tightly managed.” Papers must be submitted to a task force appointed by the State Council, the country’s administrative authority, in order to obtain approval for publication in academic journals.
The guidelines were first published on the website of Fudan University in Shanghai on Friday, and subsequently on the website of the China University of Geoscience in Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated. Both notices were subsequently taken down, although a cached version of the University of Geoscience’s notice remains accessible. A staff member for China’s Education Ministry confirmed that the ministry’s science and technology department had issued the order.
“It is not supposed to be made public — it is an internal document,” the staff member told CNN. Chinese researchers also told the network that the new guidelines had been put in place.
“I think it is a coordinated effort from [the] Chinese government to control [the] narrative, and paint it as if the outbreak did not originate in China,” said a Chinese researcher who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “And I don’t think they will really tolerate any objective study to investigate the origination of this disease.”
The coronavirus has spread since its initial appearance in Wuhan into a pandemic that has infected over 1,800,000 people and claimed the lives of over 115,000 worldwide as of Monday. China has since attempted to stoke conspiracy theories that the pathogen originated outside of the country.
In March a top Chinese foreign ministry spokesman claimed that the U.S. military had planted the coronavirus in Wuhan. The spokesman subsequently attempted to walk back the claim, blaming “stigmatization” of China for his initial remarks.