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Chinese scientist, who released COVID-19 sequence, returns to lab following protest

After staging a sit-in protest, the Chinese scientist who released the COVID-19 virus sequence has been permitted to return to his laboratory.

Written by  Annesha Barua -- May 01st 2024 04:38 PM
Chinese scientist, who released COVID-19 sequence, returns to lab following protest

Chinese scientist, who released COVID-19 sequence, returns to lab following protest

PTC news Desk: Zhang Yongzhen, the pioneering scientist credited with publishing the initial sequence of the COVID-19 virus in China, has been granted permission to re-enter his laboratory following a high-profile sit-in protest staged outside the facility.

In a Weibo post published just after midnight on Wednesday, Zhang announced that the medical center housing his lab had tentatively agreed to allow him and his team to resume their research activities. "Now, team members can enter and leave the laboratory freely," Zhang stated, indicating a positive step forward in resolving the dispute. He further mentioned ongoing negotiations aimed at ensuring the continuity of their work without disruption, potentially involving the relocation of the lab within the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center premises.


The controversy erupted when Zhang and his team were abruptly instructed to vacate their laboratory for renovation purposes, as detailed in an earlier post that was subsequently deleted. Subsequently, upon attempting to re-enter the lab, Zhang found himself locked out, prompting him to initiate a sit-in protest. Braving adverse weather conditions, Zhang and his team staged a demonstration outside the facility, advocating for the resumption of normal research operations.

Images circulated on social media depicted Zhang seated on flattened cardboard amidst light rain, accompanied by colleagues holding a banner demanding the restoration of scientific research activities. The widespread coverage of the protest exerted pressure on local authorities to address the situation promptly.

In an official statement released on Monday, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center cited safety concerns as the reason for temporarily closing Zhang's lab during renovations, asserting that alternative laboratory space had been provided to his team. However, Zhang countered these claims, asserting that the alternative facility offered did not meet the necessary safety standards for conducting their research, leaving his team in a state of uncertainty.

Zhang's confrontation with his host institution represents the latest episode in a series of challenges faced by Chinese scientists engaged in COVID-19 research. His actions have drawn both domestic and international attention, highlighting broader tensions surrounding the dissemination of information related to the pandemic within China's tightly controlled regulatory environment.

The sequence of events leading to Zhang's protest traces back to January 2020 when he and his team successfully decoded the COVID-19 virus and raised concerns internally regarding its potential for widespread transmission. Despite facing pressure from Chinese authorities, Zhang defied directives by publishing the virus sequence on January 11, 2020, without official approval, a move hailed by many as pivotal in advancing global efforts to combat the pandemic.

However, Zhang's defiance came at a cost, as he faced repercussions including demotions and restrictions on collaboration opportunities within China's scientific community. Nevertheless, Zhang continues to enjoy support from certain quarters within the government, evident from the coverage of his protest in state-controlled media outlets.

In a message expressing gratitude to his supporters, Zhang acknowledged the outpouring of solidarity from various sectors of society, signaling his determination to persevere in the face of adversity. As the global fight against COVID-19 persists, the episode serves as a reminder of the complex dynamics at play in navigating the intersection of scientific research, government oversight, and public health imperatives.

- With inputs from agencies

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