China has imposed new policies to restrict the publication of coronavirus academic research, CNN reported on Monday, citing a central government directive and online notices published by two Chinese universities.
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All announcements have since been removed from the internet, according to the report, which is the latest to question the Chinese government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak following accusations it underreported cases and allowed flights to remain open during the key initial stages of the outbreak.
Now, according to the CNN report, it appears China is still trying to withhold information about the virus.
Read more: Critics ask why China allowed flights out of Hubei during outbreak
The report alleges that the Chinese Ministry of Education’s science and technology department issued a directive saying, “academic papers about tracing the origin of the virus must be strictly and tightly managed.”
The directive also reportedly outlined an approval process for such publications. Scientists submit research papers to academic committees at universities, who then send them to the Education Ministry’s science and technology department.
The ministry then sends the papers to a State Council, China’s chief administrative authority, task force for vetting, which in turn tells the universities if they are allowed to publish the research in journals, according to CNN.
“Other papers on Covid-19 will be vetted by universities’ academic committees, based on conditions such as the ‘academic value’ of the study, and whether the ‘timing for publishing’ is right,” CNN reported.
A worrying development
A Chinese researcher anonymously told CNN that the new restrictions are a worrying development that would likely obstruct important scientific research.
“I think it is a coordinated effort from [the] Chinese government to control [the] narrative and paint it as if the outbreak did not originate in China,” CNN quoted the researcher as saying. “And I don’t think they will really tolerate any objective study to investigate the origination of this disease.”
The directive is reportedly based on instructions issued during a meeting held by the State Council’s task force on the prevention and control of COVID-19, according to CNN.
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A staff member at the education ministry’s science and technology department reportedly confirmed that the department issued the directive. However, the unidentified person was quoted by CNN as saying, “It is not supposed to be made public, it is an internal document.”
The allegations are the latest to suggest that the Chinese government has been working to control the flow of information about the coronavirus pandemic, which has now infected over 1.8 million people so far and killed over 114,000, based on Google’s latest numbers.
Earlier this month, the United States accused China of lying about the extent of the deadly virus, citing an intelligence report presented to the White House.
Last month, US President Donald Trump accused Beijing of “not fully sharing data sooner,” according to AFP.
“The world is paying a very big price for what they did,” AFP quoted Trump as saying.