Costco set to open new store in China's Suzhou city

BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. retail giant Costco (COST.O) will open a new store in China’s eastern city of Suzhou, near Shanghai, state media reported on Thursday.

Costco’s subsidiary in Suzhou on Thursday bought a piece of land in Suzhou New District at a cost of more than 142.5 million yuan ($20.2 million), according to the management committee of Suzhou New District. The plan is for a warehouse store with a floor area of more than 50,000 square meters to be built on the site.

Costco is beefing up its presence in the world’s most populous country where a rapidly expanding middle class is looking for good-quality products at bargain prices.

The retailer opened its first mainland China store in Shanghai’s Minhang district in August, with customers queuing for hours to enter the store on its opening day.

The company said in February it would build another store in Shanghai, with its subsidiary securing a piece of land in the city’s Pudong district.  

Costco’s Suzhou subsidiary was established in January, with a total investment of 1.27 billion yuan. The store in Suzhou will be the company’s third in China, and the first out of Shanghai.

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China's Wuhan lockdown ends, but another begins as local coronavirus cases rise

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – The Chinese city where the coronavirus epidemic first broke out, Wuhan, ended a two-month lockdown on Wednesday, but a northern town started restricting the movement of its residents amid concerns of a second wave of infections in mainland China.

China sealed off Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, in late January to stop the spread of the virus. Over 50,000 people in Wuhan caught the virus, and more than 2,500 of them died, about 80% of all deaths in China, according to official figures.

The virus has since become a global pandemic that has infected over 1.4 million people and killed 82,000, wreaking havoc on the global economy as governments worldwide imposed sweeping lockdowns to rein in its spread.

Restrictions in Wuhan have eased in recent days as the capital of Hubei province reported just three new confirmed infections in the past 21 days and only two new infections in the past fortnight.

But even as people leave the city, new imported cases in the northern province of Heilongjiang surged to a daily high of 25, fuelled by an influx of infected travellers arriving from Russia, which shares a land border with the province.

Suifenhe City in Heilongjiang restricted the movement of its citizens on Wednesday in a similar fashion to that of Wuhan.

Residents must stay in residential compounds and one person from a family can leave once every three days to buy necessities and must return on the same day, said state-run CCTV.

In Jiaozhou City in the eastern province of Shandong the risk level had risen from low to medium, according to a post on an official website, but it gave no further details.

A county in central China with a population of about 600,000 went into a partial lockdown on April 1 following several new infections, including at least two asymptomatic cases.

LEAVING WUHAN

Around 55,000 people are expected to leave Wuhan by train on Wednesday. More than 10,000 travellers have left the city by plane so far as flights resume at Wuhan Tianhe airport. Flights to Beijing and international locations have not been restored.

“I’m very happy, I’m going home today,” migrant worker Liu Xiaomin told Reuters as she stood with her suitcases inside Wuhan’s Hankou railway station, bound for Xiangyang city.

Still, Wuhan residents have been urged not to leave the province, their city or even their neighbourhood unless absolutely necessary.

People from Wuhan arriving in the Chinese capital Beijing will have to undergo two rounds of testing for the virus.

China is maintaining strict screening protocols, concerned about any resurgence in domestic transmissions due to virus carriers who exhibit no symptoms and infected travellers arriving from overseas.

IMPORTED CASES

Authorities are chiefly concerned with imported infections and asymptomatic cases, people who have been infected with the virus but do not show any symptoms such as fever or a cough.

Mainland China’s new coronavirus cases doubled over the past 24 hours as the number of infected overseas travellers surged, while new asymptomatic infections more than quadrupled.

New confirmed cases rose to 62 on Tuesday from 32 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said, the highest since March 25. New imported infections accounted for 59 of the cases.

The number of new asymptomatic cases rose to 137 from 30 a day earlier, the health authority said on Wednesday, with incoming travellers accounting for 102 of the latest batch.

Chinese authorities do not count asymptomatic cases as part of its tally of confirmed coronavirus infections until patients show symptoms such as a fever or a cough.

As of Tuesday, 1,095 asymptomatic patients were under medical observation in China, with 358 of them travellers arriving from abroad.

To stem infections from outside its borders, China has slashed the number of international flights and denied entry to virtually all foreigners. It also started testing all international arrivals for the virus this month.

Screening of travellers arriving overland was also recently tightened.

As of Tuesday, the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 81,802, including 3,333 fatalities, the National Health Commission said.

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Traders get reality check with China's cautious stimulus measures

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – China’s authorities are proving surprisingly reserved when it comes to unleashing support measures for its ailing economy, and investors aren’t liking the reticence.

The country’s financial markets are starting to lag global peers, after initially outperforming on optimism officials would take more muscular stimulus. The yuan has fallen for seven days versus a basket of 24 trading partner currencies, while the CSI 300 Index of shares trailed MSCI’s global benchmark by the most since 2015 last week.

A slew of new policies this week failed to reverse the tide. Stocks and bonds fell on Monday (March 30) after the central bank cut short-term rates by the most since 2015. The yuan weakened on Wednesday, despite officials calling for further measures including more cash injections and additional bond sales to bolster local governments’ coffers.

Contrast that with discussions in the US for a fourth round of economic stimulus, as well as the Federal Reserve’s decision to slash rates to zero and pump trillions of dollars into the financial system. European governments have put aside their fiscal-deficit targets to ramp up spending, while Japan’s ruling party this week proposed the country’s biggest-ever stimulus package.

“The policy stance during the virus outbreak has given many investors a reality check,” said Yu Yingbo, fund manager at Shenzhen Qianhai United Fortune Fund Management Co. “For those who are still waiting for Beijing to roll out the big guns – day by day they’ll wait in vain.”

China’s relatively cautious programme of easing speaks to the government’s concerns over price stability and the country’s large pile of debt. That’s even as the economy is forecast to grow at the slowest pace since 1976 this year. The People’s Bank of China said on Monday it still has plenty of room to adjust monetary policy as needed and “doesn’t use its bullets all at once.”

While measures deployed by Beijing underscored its prudent approach to stimulus, investors had expected that stance to shift after top leaders pledged to be more “proactive” in using fiscal policy and exercise “more flexibility” in monetary easing. When economic data showed a worse-than-expected contraction in February, traders snapped up stocks on expectations more support would follow. The CSI 300 rallied 5 per cent that week, the most in a year.

To be sure, efforts elsewhere to support local economies were also initially met with investor skepticism. US stocks tumbled into a bear market last month on concern that emergency measures would fall short. In the UK, where interest rates were cut to a record low, stocks suffered their worst quarter since 1987.

But while markets around the world have stabilized in the past week, China’s stocks and the yuan continue to lose momentum. Average daily turnover in local equities, which hovered around 1 trillion yuan (S$202 billion) for about four weeks, is now half that amount. The CSI 300 rose 1.6 per cent last week, compared with an almost 10 per cent rally in the MSCI All-Country World Index.

Past experience may explain Beijing’s reluctance to wheel out the big guns. In 2008, China cut interest rates, unveiled a 4 trillion yuan spending package and scrapped new loan quotas to counter the effects of global financial crisis. While the measures supercharged the economy, the enduring result was an unsustainable increase in debt.

Further measures are expected this time round, including the first cut to the benchmark deposit rate in five years. Uncertainty remains over the government’s deficit and growth targets, which are typically announced at the National People’s Congress in March. There’s no date for the meeting to convene, with the capital still under a travel lockdown.

“The policies offered right now are just safety-net measures,” said Chen Tonghui, managing director at Shenzhen Valley Asset Management Co. “It seems like this is as much as we can expect in terms of policy support. Flooding the economy with cash won’t address the real problem.”

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China reports rise in new coronavirus cases due to imported infections

BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China reported on Tuesday a rise in new confirmed coronavirus cases, reversing four days of declines, due to an uptick in infections involving travellers arriving from overseas.

Mainland China had 48 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said in a statement, up from 31 new infections a day earlier.

All of the 48 cases were imported, bringing the total number of imported cases in China to 771 as of Monday. There was no reported new case of local infection.

While locally transmitted infections in China have mostly declined, authorities are concerned about cases involving travellers who have caught the virus abroad, stepping up health screening and quarantine protocols and even reducing the number of international flights and barring entry to most foreigners.

Of the new imported cases reported on Monday, 10 were in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region involving travellers whose flights were diverted from Beijing to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia’s capital city, in recent days, according to state media.

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Shanghai reported 11 new imported cases, comprising mainly Chinese nationals returning from abroad, while Beijing reported three new imported infections.

The city of Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province and epicentre of the outbreak in China, reported no new infections for the seventh straight day.

As of Monday, the total number of infections reported in mainland China stood at 81,518 and the death toll at 3,305.

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China in coronavirus propaganda push as US ties worsen

State media lauds China as global leader in fight against disease in bid to defuse criticism it allowed virus to spread.

Chengdu, China – On March 18, China marked a milestone in its “people’s war” against the new coronavirus. For the first time in three months, there were no new local infections in the central province of Hubei, where more than 60 million people remain confined to their homes as part of a nationwide effort to control the deadly outbreak.

The respiratory illness caused by the new pathogen, first detected in late December in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, has spread rapidly across the world, infecting more than 465,000 people and killing more than 21,000 as of March 26. 

Europe has become the new epicentre of the disease, also known as COVID-19, with the death toll in Italy and Spain higher than China and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday that the United States might be next.

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But in China, the outbreak appears to be under control, with less than 5,000 patients still undergoing treatment and new cases confirmed only among people returning from overseas.

Authorities in Beijing, who were widely criticised for initially covering up the outbreak, are now hailing their success, highlighting the unparalleled measures that helped quell the outbreak within the country and positioning China as a global leading power in the fight against the coronavirus – all while engaging in an acrimonious war of words with the US.

Prior to the slowing of local transmissions in China, the country’s highly controlled state media was almost exclusively pushing one narrative: the supremacy of the so-called “system with Chinese characteristics” in fighting the outbreak.

News anchors and online reporters praised the central leadership for utilising measures unthinkable in other countries in their bid to contain the virus, including a nationwide quarantine, the use of mass surveillance to track infections bringing the world’s second-largest economy to a near-halt.

“With utmost determination to curb the outbreak growth, China has bought enough time for the world to prepare itself for this pandemic,” Geng Shuang, the spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters on March 19, suggesting that China’s draconian measures had slowed down the transmission of the disease worldwide.

‘Global leader against coronavirus’

As the domestic pressure to contain the outbreak eased, state media shifted their focus to featuring China’s recent effort to deploy medics and resources to areas most hard-hit by the virus, particularly Italy and Iran, labelling itself as a global leader in the battle against the virus.

China has sent planeloads of medical equipment, including the much sought-after masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment to the worst-hit countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

CCTV, the official state broadcaster, continuously plays videos of Chinese medics arriving in Bergamo in northern Italy and Iran’s capital, Tehran.

CGTN, the international wing of CCTV, and Global Times, a state-owned English language tabloid, are two of the many state media outlets praising China’s “generosity” and “leadership” during the pandemic.

Positive feedback from global leaders, such as Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, and officials from Venezuela and the Philippines – mostly comments applauding China’s support and leadership  – have also been prominently featured in the state media coverage.

Meanwhile, the social media accounts of government-backed media institutions are at the front line of the propaganda push, including on Twitter and Facebook, which are both banned in China.

‘Shifting domestic anger’

By doing so, Beijing is trying to shift domestic and international attention away from the pent-up anger in the country towards the central government for an initial cover-up of the outbreak that many say paved the way for the rapid spread of the virus.

“By pushing for this narrative, China is avoiding the blame and successfully dodging culpability for its role in spreading the coronavirus,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

“In suppressing information about the virus and allowing it to spread unchecked in the crucial early days and weeks, the regime imperilled the more than 100 nations now facing their own potentially devastating outbreaks.”

Some analysts say what triggered the propaganda machine in China is the deterioration in relations between Beijing and Washington, which are also locked in a bitter trade dispute.

Last week, tensions escalated after China expelled more than a dozen American journalists working for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post newspapers, in a tactic seen as retaliation for the US designating China’s state media as diplomatic missions.

‘Blame game’

Now officials in the two countries are blaming each other for the current pandemic.

Since early March, Chinese officials and state media have been pushing the idea that the new coronavirus could have originated somewhere else – notably the US.

Lijian Zhao, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, has been particularly vocal in questioning the US’s role in the viral outbreak.

On March 12, Zhao posted a tweet saying: “It might be the US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan”. And despite widespread criticism over the unsubstantiated claim, Zhao continues to blame Washington.

Articles with titles along the lines of The virus didn’t come from China: the US brought the virus to China as a bioweapon are widely shared across China’s tightly-controlled internet.

Some of these pieces filled with conspiracy theories say the US army brought the virus to China during the Military World Games held in Wuhan in October last year. State media is also calling for an “inquiry” into the US’s role in the emergence of this outbreak, publishing articles that question Washington based on an unfounded assumption that the US was behind the spread of the virus.

Aggressive foreign policy

The WHO and leading medical experts say the virus jumped from an animal host to humans, stressing that the suggestion that the pathogen did not have a natural origin are “dangerous” to the effort to contain the pandemic.

But Chinese academics are also supporting the narrative of US involvement.

Chen Xuyan, a scientist based in Beijing, appeared on CCTV on March 18 and suggested that the fast speed of research on COVID-19 vaccines in the US could be attributed to the possibility that Washington had already obtained the virus long before, by extension implying the US might have sent the virus to China.

“The Xi government is following a very aggressive foreign policy now, engaging in what Mao Zedong called a ‘tongue war’ – the propaganda war,” said Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury who specialises in Chinese politics.

The resentment in China has been exacerbated by US President Donald Trump’s decision to use terms like “foreign virus” and more frequently, “Chinese virus”, to refer to the new pathogen.

Images posted online show that during a recent news conference, Trump crossed out the word “corona” and wrote “CHINESE” in front of the word “virus” in the script of his speech. 

The Chinese foreign ministry has called the moves “irresponsible” and “racist”.

Instead of sweeping Trump’s comments under the rug, which is usually what the state media does for comments that go against the Communist Party line, the government is using Trump’s remarks as a tactic to incite public anger towards the US leader and as an extension, the US as a whole.

“With the US facing its own credibility issues in recent years, China’s false narrative threatens to spread as quickly as the coronavirus,” wrote Matthew Karnitschnig, the chief Europe correspondent of Politico.

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Australia says it strongly objects to China's indictment of writer

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia strongly objects to the formal indictment of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengju, who continues to be held in “unacceptable” conditions, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday.

Yang, a former Chinese diplomat turned online journalist and blogger, was formally arrested in August 2019 on suspicion of espionage, seven months after he was originally detained in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Payne said Australian consular officials have been denied access to Yang since the end of 2019.

“In the absence of consular visits as a result of COVID-19, we have requested contact by telephone or correspondence. Both requests have been rejected This is unacceptable treatment of an Australian citizen,” Payne said in an emailed statement

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COMMENTARY: As COVID-19 spreads, the war of words between Beijing and Washington helps no one

While the world seeks unity to fight COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, China and the U.S. have become involved in an ugly slagging match over the illness.

Beijing announced on Tuesday that it is expelling all China- and Hong Kong-based journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. It further demanded that those newspapers, as well as Voice of America and Time magazine, provide “detailed information ” about their work in China.

The deportation order came just hours after China denounced U.S. President Donald Trump for referring to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus” in a tweet that a Communist Party newspaper immediately called “racist.” In what Foreign Policy magazine cited as an example of COVID-19 becoming a “geopolitical football,” Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, publicly referred to it two weeks ago as “the Wuhan virus.”

Though it is hard to see a direct link between the deportation of journalists and the disease that the World Health Organization finally decided to call COVID-19, a Chinese academic was quoted Tuesday in official media as saying the tweet from the White House “appeared to be a tit-for-tat move in response to a decision earlier this month by U.S. President Donald Trump that five Chinese state media companies reduce to 100 the number of Chinese citizens they employ in the U.S.”

Only last Friday, the U.S. State Department summoned China’s ambassador to Washington to explain why his foreign ministry’s chief spokesman had publicly demanded an investigation into whether a U.S. military lab had created the new coronavirus and suggestions by other Chinese diplomats that U.S. troops had brought the highly infectious disease to China.

Also tumbling out there in the digital and electronic fog has been a conspiracy theory, perhaps first circulated by a U.S. senator, that the pathogen causing global hysteria got its start at the People’s Liberation Army biochemical weapons lab in Wuhan.

There is a preposterous Canadian angle, too: that the virus might have come from research allegedly stolen by Chinese scientists working at a lab in Winnipeg.

The rift between Beijing and Washington comes at a moment when the stark outlines of the terrible economic effects of this scourge are starting to become known. Production in China was down by about 13 per cent in January and February. Retail spending dropped by one-fifth. And the figures for March and April are unlikely to be any better.

The collapse is a portentous warning of the extreme challenges that lie ahead for Canada and other countries as they digest the economic consequences of the pandemic. Estimates circulated by some Canadian economists that the country’s growth rate will retract by two per cent in June already seem badly out of date.

Going forward, how much other economies will want to continue to depend on Chinese products and, in particular, Chinese parts is unknown.

However, no matter how much positive spin China puts on the strength of its official response to the new coronavirus, exports from China will continue to take a terrible hit. Canada, for one, may finally figure out that it is smarter to diversify trade, rather than be besotted by the trade prospects with only one country.

Spitballing about the economic fallout is easier than divining the truth about the origins of the disease, which is impossible now and probably always will be. But it is clear that at a time of intense international anxiety over COVID-19 — or whatever you choose to call it — relations between China and the U.S. are sour and getting worse. Both sides have begun using the pandemic to take clout each other.

On Tuesday, under the headline “Trump’s racist tweet another attempt to deflect blame,” the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times denounced Trump’s “temerity” for calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” and said this had been done to mask the mistakes he had made in organizing the American fight against the disease.

”Labelling a virus to reference to a country, region or people contradicts long-held principles of the World Health Organization (WHO),” the daily wrote.

“What prompted Trump to utter such reckless words? What are the likely consequences and fallout of his remarks?”

The WHO has badly damaged its credibility by refusing to attach any blame to China for keeping news of the virus secret from its own citizens and the world for as much as five or six weeks after it was first detected in the city of Wuhan in either the last week of November or early December.

Nor has the world’s medical guardian or its parent organization, the UN, mentioned Beijing’s outrageous mistreatment of the small band of doctors and medical researchers in China who bravely tried to alert people to the menace three weeks before the government there did.

During those three weeks, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government was silent, allowing its people to go about their lives as if there was nothing wrong. As hundreds of millions of Chinese began the annual Lunar New Year trek to their birthplaces, the disease mouldered and grew before pinballing out on a thousand vectors around the world.

On the specific issue of Beijing’s extreme sensitivity to any geographic reference to the novel coronavirus in its official name, that position is bunkum.

Geographic locales where many of the world’s most dangerous pathogens were first detected have often been used as shorthand to describe them.
Among the many examples are three of the four most deadly viruses in the world: the Marburg virus, which was discovered in the German town of Marburg; the Ebola virus, named after a river in Congo near where the fatal fever was first found; and Lassa fever, which was discovered in the Nigerian town of that name.

In fact, on its official website, the WHO has long descriptions of both Ebola and Lassa fever using those names and providing the specific geography of those areas in West Africa.

Rather than blaming each other for a calamity that is already upon us, China and the U.S. should be collaborating on medical and economic solutions to this menace. That getting along with each other, at least for now, has not been an imperative for both countries is irresponsible. It has meant a much harder time of it for everyone.

Matthew Fisher is an international affairs columnist and foreign correspondent who has worked abroad for 35 years. You can follow him on Twitter at @mfisheroverseas.

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Coronavirus crackdown: Sick officials in China offer money for slaughtered pets

Guangdong officials said: “For each killed stray dog, we will give 200 yuan (£23).” The controversial order was issued by the Wanjiang community in Dongguan, Guangzhou Province of southern China, after some residents had criticised “rule-breaking dog owners”. The document also shared several regulations on how residents should keep their dogs and walk the animals.  

Dogs seen without a collar were considered as “stray dogs”, the statement read.

The notice was removed after igniting outrage among the residents.  

Officials have denied accusations they were encouraging the killing of dogs.

They claimed they were regulating pet-keeping with the rule.

There has not been any evidence suggesting the coronavirus can be transmitted to or by animals, according to the World Health Organization.

The notice is being re-written because “its content was inappropriate”, a spokesperson from the Wanjiang community, known by his surname Long, told Kankan News.

“We wanted to regulate keeping pets. We are not encouraging killing dogs,” Mr Long added.

Another local resident said: “It’s such a barbaric rule. I found it ridiculous. It’s not what a civilised society would do.

“The statement would teach our children how to not love animals.”

The fear of pets being able to spread the disease began in January after a Chinese health expert claimed animals needed to be quarantined during the outbreak to stop the spread of the disease.

However, the World Health Organization dismissed the claims signifying there is no evidence to show the virus being transmitted to pets.

Community officers in a county in south-western China’s Sichuan Province knocked on doors and demanded residents to hand over their pets.

Nanchong Missing Animal Aid Group claimed the animals were killed moments later on the street.

The organisation said the campaign was carried out at the township of Longcan in Peng’an County in Nanchong.

Dr Zhong Nanshan, Beijing’s leading medical advisor on the virus, said the current pattern of the outbreaks outside of China was similar to the path of the outbreak in Wuhan in its early days.

He urged nations around the world to step up their efforts to control and prevent the virus in order to defeat the pandemic.

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Coronavirus: China relaxes travel rules in Wuhan

China is relaxing travel bans in Hubei province, including Wuhan – the city where coronavirus broke out.

Thousands of workers are being sent back to jobs at factories in a drive to get production going again.

Buses are being chartered in satellite cities outside Wuhan, according to the official Xinhua News Agency,

They will take residents who returned home for Chinese New Year in late January back to work in the city where the virus that has now spread across the world originated.

Chinese officials say the outbreak that spread from Wuhan in December has mostly run its course domestically.

But they insist they are remaining vigilant of anyone who could be carrying the virus back into the country.

The outbreak of coronavirus had a devastating effect on China’s service sector and industries from cars to mobile phones.

But President Xi Jinping has pledged economic growth targets for the year will still be met.

Meanwhile, dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine as COVID-19 cases continue to grow.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as a fever and cough.

Older adults and people with existing health problems are more at risk of the virus causing severe illness, including pneumonia.

So far 35 people with the virus in the UK have died and there are 1,372 confirmed cases.

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Coronavirus conspiracy claims sealed off US army lab linked to outbreak

Chinese experts are calling for information on the closure of a US disease research lab – which some conspiracy theorists have linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Fort Detrick laboratory, which operated in Fredrick, Maryland in the US, was temporarily shut down in July 2019 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is a biodefence centre that studies germs, toxins, and disease outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it did not have “sufficient systems in place to decontaminate wastewater” from its high-security labs.

China’s state-run Global Times has referenced a petition on the White House website, urging the US government to release more information on the suspension of the lab.

Chinese internet users are reportedly concerned that it may have been linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

One posted on the petition: “It's not a small issue, the truth should be published.”

Another said: “The world deserves to know the truth.”

Ni Feng, a deputy director of the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, called on the US government “to increase transparency” amid the outbreak, the propaganda outlet reports.

However, there is no evidence that any pathogens ever left the lab.

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Last week, China’s Xinhua news agency said that even though the epidemic was first reported in China, it “does not mean it necessarily originated in China”.

This weekend, another Chinese official promoted a conspiracy theory that the US could have brought the virus to China.

He posted to his 300,000 Twitter followers: “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.

“Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

Last week, Beijing reported an increase in coronavirus cases owing to tourists from Italy.

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Diagnoses jumped on Tuesday to 24 from 19 the day before, caused by people who arrived from Italy.

They were put into a 14-day quarantine joining others from Iran, South Korea and Japan.

Measures at Beijing’s airport are set to be stepped up in the coming days over fears infections from abroad could undo its attempts to slow the epidemic at home.

But new infections in central Hubei province declined for the sixth day running, prompting a visit from President Xi Jinping on his first visit to Wuhan since the coronavirus outbreak forced a lockdown of the city of 11 million people.

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