Chinese scientist who first published COVID sequence stages protest after being locked out of lab


The first scientist to reveal the sequence of the COVID-19 virus in China faced a tough situation recently. Zhang Yongzhen staged a protest outside his lab after authorities locked him out. This incident highlights the pressure Chinese scientists face when conducting research on the coronavirus.

Zhang and his team were suddenly told to leave their lab, adding to a series of challenges they’ve faced since Zhang published the virus sequence in January 2020 without official approval. When Zhang tried to enter the lab, guards stopped him. In response, he protested by sitting outside in the rain. This drew attention on social media, but it’s unclear if he stayed there overnight.

Despite claims that Zhang’s lab was closed for safety reasons and an alternative space was offered, Zhang said the alternative lab didn’t meet safety standards. This left his team in a difficult position, unable to continue their research properly.

This situation reflects China’s tight control over COVID-19 information. The government has hindered efforts to trace the virus since the early days of the outbreak. Labs have been closed, collaborations disrupted, and foreign scientists forced out, while Chinese researchers face restrictions on leaving the country.

Zhang’s troubles began when he decoded the virus and warned Chinese authorities of its potential spread in January 2020. Despite pressure from authorities, he published the virus sequence on Jan. 11, 2020, without permission. This sequence is crucial for developing tests, controlling diseases, and creating vaccines.

However, Zhang’s publication led to more scrutiny of his lab. He was removed from his post at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and faced restrictions on collaborating with former partners, severely impacting his research.

Zhang’s collaborator, Edward Holmes, noted that Zhang’s defiance of authorities led to a campaign against him. Despite this, Zhang has received recognition for his work. Nevertheless, the challenges he faces highlight the difficulties scientists encounter when trying to share important information, especially during a pandemic.


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