BEIJING -- Reports confirmed by Chinese authorities about how thousands of residents of northwest China have tested positive for a bacterial disease after a leak from a state-owned biopharmaceutical plant are raising new questions about the country's safety standards and the origins of COVID-19.
Health officials in Lanzhou city said 3,245 people had contracted brucellosis, a disease often caused by close contact with infected animals or animal products that can bring about fevers, joint pain and headaches.
Chinese authorities admitted that a government-run biopharmaceutical plant used expired disinfectant in its production of brucellosis vaccines for animals between July and August 2019 -- meaning that the plant failed to eradicate the bacteria.
Contaminated gas from the China Animal Husbandry Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Factory in Lanzhou formed aerosols containing the bacteria, and winds bore the pathogens to the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, infecting almost 200 people there as of last December.
Unsafe practices at Chinese labs
This is not the first time that safety standards at laboratories in China have been in the spotlight.
After COVID-19 spread across the globe, world governments began searching for the origins of the deadly pandemic, which has infected more than 30 million people worldwide and left nearly a million dead as of Monday (September 21).
While most evidence points to a wet market in Wuhan, China, as the source of the coronavirus outbreak, an investigation into the matter is still progressing -- much to the annoyance of Chinese authorities who are attempting to portray China as the "hero" of the pandemic.
One of the theories is that COVID-19 leaked from a government-funded lab.
Strengthening that theory is documented evidence of foreign officials issuing several warnings about a research lab in Wuhan, China, saying it had inadequate safety measures while conducting risky studies on bat coronaviruses.
Two years before the COVID-19 outbreak, US State Department officials warned about safety and management weaknesses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and proposed more attention and help, with specific concern over the "lab's work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission" and how it represented "a risk of a new SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome]-like pandemic".
One of the warnings detailed how the facility had a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.