China’s Top Biowarfare Specialist Helms Efforts to Combat Coronavirus, Army Enters Wuhan to Deliver Supplies

China’s Top Biowarfare Specialist Helms Efforts to Combat Coronavirus, Army Enters Wuhan to Deliver Supplies
Medical staff members wearing protective clothing arrive with a patient at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, China on Jan. 25, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicole Hao

China’s state-run media reported Feb. 3 that Chinese troops started to assist with deliveries of essential supplies to Wuhan, the coronavirus-stricken city of 9 million in central China’s Hubei Province.

According to China Central Television (CCTV), soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Hubei Garrison in the Central Theater Command deployed to Wuhan on Feb. 2, where their first task was to transport more than 200 metric tons (about 220 tons) of goods to the city’s supermarkets.

The previous day, the People’s Liberation Army Daily reported that Chen Wei, China’s top expert in biological warfare, has been leading the efforts to overcome the deadly, pneumonia-like pathogen for the last nine days.

Chinese authorities confirmed the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) on Dec. 31, 2019, but recently published studies show that the first patient was diagnosed on Dec. 1. So far, the virus has spread to at least 27 countries, while all provinces and regions of China have confirmed cases.

Wuhan is the provincial capital of Hubei. With the virus spreading, all of Hubei and its more than 58 million residents are under quarantine, as well as at least three major cities in coastal Zhejiang Province. The two provinces do not share a common border.

‘Prepare for the Worst-Case Scenario’

According to the PLA Daily report, Chen Wei holds the rank of major general, and is the country’s leading specialist in biochemical warfare. She is employed as a researcher at the medical institute of the Academy of Military Sciences, and is concurrently an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Chen began researching coronaviruses since the SARS outbreak of 2003, according to the PLA Daily. In past years, she has also worked on the Ebola virus and Bacillus anthracis, an agent that causes anthrax.

Before the report, Chen’s military rank and specialization was not widely known. She was first interviewed on Jan. 30 by the state-run China Science Daily. In a second interview the next day, she predicted that the outbreak in Wuhan would let up over the next few days, but could worsen again soon.

“We need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, find the best solutions, and be ready to fight the longest battle,” she said.

The first PLA contingent entering Wuhan numbered 260 men, according to CCTV.

Their deployment comes days after Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who is commander-in-chief of the Chinese regime’s armed forces, on Jan. 29 ordered the PLA to assist with disease control efforts in the city.

The newly built Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan opened on Feb. 3, and is staffed by around 1,400 PLA medics and other military personnel. The Wuhan Leishenshan hospital, another  facility under rapid construction, is set to open on Feb. 6.

Total figures for the number of people who have contracted or succumbed to the Wuhan coronavirus are given by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities as more than 20,000, as of statistics released Feb. 4.

However, there is much doubt over the official tally. Multiple Chinese and international experts, as well as Chinese claiming to be health workers in Wuhan, have said that the true number of infected could be in the hundreds of thousands.

The CCP regime has clamped down on unapproved online discussion about the coronavirus, and has modified its criminal law to punish those accused of using the topic to spread what the authorities deem to be “rumors” or disinformation.

According to social media posts by Chinese netizens claiming to have contacts in the regime, in the event that the outbreak is not brought under control by Feb. 10, the PLA will put Wuhan under martial law. Residents will not be allowed to leave their homes, and supplies will be delivered to them by soldiers going door to door, the widely circulated posts said.

Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
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