Chinese scientist who helped combat Covid-19 still faces challenges to continue research

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Beijing: Chinese virologist, Zhang Yongzhen gained prominence in 2020 when he shared critical data with the world disclosing the genome of a virus that caused Covid-19. However, back in China, this scientist who contributed majorly to combating COVID has been facing regular interruptions and hurdles for over four years, a report by CNN stated.

Yongzhen on Sunday protested against these interruptions outside his lab at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center after administrators closed the facility abruptly for renovations, the same report mentioned quoting accounts posted on his Weibo social media page. Although Yongzhen was praised for his contributions to countering covid 19.

But, the people who know him say that he has faced a series of unexpected roadblocks in his career and research.
Images posted on Chinese social media this week showed Zhang wrapped in blankets and sleeping on the doorstep of the lab building as security guards hovered over him.

Quoting the accounts of Zhang’s research students posted online, the CNN report mentioned that he faced challenges like the formal transfer of his official employment to the Shanghai Center in 2020, ending his 19-year tenure at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Their account, reposted on Zhang’s Weibo page and seen by CNN, has since been deleted. The post alleged that the Shanghai Center affiliated with Fudan University, failed to formally recognize Zhang’s employment, ultimately striping him of his social security and medical benefits, and a premature termination of a five-year cooperation agreement.

In a statement Monday, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center said it had closed some labs for renovation due to safety concerns and claimed it had provided additional office and experimental spaces for Zhang and his team. The “institute always respects … and supports scientific researchers and students in carrying out normal research work,” the statement said.

CNN claimed to have reached the scientist on the phone, who mentioned that all the explanations given by the authorities for closing the labs were nonsensical. More than a dozen students’ research had been impacted by the lab closure, he said, adding it was “inconvenient” to say more at that time.

Moreover, the CNN report claimed that neither Zhang nor the online post detailing the circumstances leading to his protest connected the lab closure to his sharing of the coronavirus genome sequence in 2020. However, several calls made by CNN to the public relations department of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center remain unanswered.
According to the CNN report, Zhang became the first scientist to share Covid-19’s genomic sequence on January 11, 2020, as the World Health Organization waited for China to provide the data following its announcement nearly two weeks earlier of a viral outbreak in the central city of Wuhan. For his contributions, Zhang Yongzhen was recognized by Nature Magzine as one of 10 people who helped shape science in 2020.

But, according to his long-time collaborator Edward Holmes, a University of Sydney professor who published the genome with Zhang’s permission on an international data sharing website. Following the release of the data, Zhang’s lab had limitations placed on it, which barred it from isolating the Covid virus, Holmes said. These challenges have been placed upon Yongzhen because China has kept a close eye on the publication of any information related to Covid 19, tightly monitoring transparency related to the virus.

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