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Chinese scientist who published Covid-19 sequence evicted from lab

Chinese officials have evicted prominent virologist Zhang Yongzhen from his laboratory.

Chinese officials have evicted prominent virologist Zhang Yongzhen from his laboratory. Photo: AP

The first scientist to publish a sequence of the COVID-19 virus in China is staging a sit-in protest after authorities locked him out of his lab.

Virologist Zhang Yongzhen wrote in an online post that he and his team were suddenly notified they were being evicted from their lab, the latest in a series of setbacks, demotions and ousters since he first published the sequence in early January 2020.

The move shows how the Chinese government continues to pressure and control scientists, seeking to avoid scrutiny of its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

News of Zhang’s protest spread widely on Chinese social media, attracting public attention.

In an online statement, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre said that Zhang’s lab was being renovated and was closed for “safety reasons”.

It added that it had provided Zhang’s team an alternative laboratory space.

In response, Zhang wrote online that his team wasn’t offered an alternative lab until after they were notified of their eviction, and that the lab offered didn’t meet safety standards for conducting their research, leaving his team in limbo.

When Zhang tried to enter his lab over the weekend, guards barred him from entering. In protest, he sat outside on flattened cardboard in drizzling rain, pictures from the scene posted online show.

“I won’t leave, I won’t quit, I am pursuing science and the truth!” he wrote in a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo that was later deleted.

“The Public Health Centre are refusing to let me and my students go inside the laboratory office to take shelter.”

Zhang, when reached by phone, said it was “inconvenient” for him to speak when an AP reporter reached him by phone on Tuesday, saying there were other people listening in.

But in an email to collaborator Edward Holmes seen by AP, Zhang confirmed he was sleeping outside his lab after guards barred him from entering.

-PA

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