A shipment of Ebola and Henipah viruses was sent from the National Microbiology Lab Winnipeg, Canada to the Wuhan Institute of Virology early in 2019, way before the global coronavirus crisis erupted, CBC News reports.
The media outlet also noted that "one of the scientists escorted from the lab in Winnipeg amid an RCMP investigation last July" was apparently responsible for exporting the pathogens, adding that Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, her husband Keding Cheng and her students from China got removed from Canada's “only level-4 lab” over a possible "security breach".
Canadian officials insisted that the shipment was not related to the COVID-19 outbreak or the research related to the pandemic.
"The administrative investigation is not related to the shipment of virus samples to China," stated Eric Morrissette, chief of media relations for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. "In response to a request from the Wuhan Institute of Virology for viral samples of Ebola and Henipah viruses, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) sent samples for the purpose of scientific research in 2019."
However, a law professor and epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa named Amir Attaran, called this development “alarming” and even "potentially life-threatening".
"We have a researcher who was removed by the RCMP from the highest security laboratory that Canada has for reasons that government is unwilling to disclose. The intelligence remains secret", he mused. "But what we know is that before she was removed, she sent one of the deadliest viruses on Earth, and multiple varieties of it to maximize the genetic diversity and maximize what experimenters in China could do with it, to a laboratory in China that does dangerous gain of function experiments. And that has links to the Chinese military."
With the media outlet describing gain of function experiments as involving a natural pathogen being "taken into the lab, made to mutate, and then assessed to see if it has become more deadly or infectious", Attaran remarked that most countries refrain from performing such experiments due to them being considered too dangerous.
"The Wuhan lab does them and we have now supplied them with Ebola and Nipah viruses. It does not take a genius to understand that this is an unwise decision," he said. "I am extremely unhappy to see that the Canadian government shared that genetic material."
China became the first country in the world to face the coronavirus crisis as the COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in the country's province of Hubei.
In recent months, Beijing has repeatedly been accused by Washington of withholding information about the epidemic during its early stages, blaming it for the spread of the disease – accusations that China vehemently denies.