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China ‘began stockpiling PPE months before Covid outbreak’

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 08/10/2022 Ashley Rindsberg
The P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan - HECTOR RETAMAL © HECTOR RETAMAL The P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan - HECTOR RETAMAL

China began severely restricting the export of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gowns and masks, months before notifying the world of the outbreak of Covid-19, it has emerged.

PPE exports to the US fell by around 50 per cent between August and September of 2019, in a significant drop which raised alarm bells at key US government agencies.

China also started to buy up global PPE stocks in Europe, Australia and the US around the same time, experts said.

The fall in PPE supplies exiting China, the world’s biggest manufacturer of PPE, raises new questions about the true timeline of the emergence of SARS-CoV-2.

An altered timeline would significantly challenge the theory that the pandemic originated from a seafood market in Wuhan, where the first cases emerged in December 2019.

The anomaly was uncovered by former US government officials including Dr Tom McGinn, a Senior Health Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Colonel John Hoffman, a Senior Research Fellow with the Food Protection and Defence Institute whose career spans decades in US government and military.

The pair were unconvinced that the virus had started at the Wuhan Wet Market in December 2019, after and began looking for an alternative theory.

After scouring a Customs and Border Protection database which tracks goods entering the US, they noticed China had started hoarding PPE far earlier than the initial date of the outbreak.

“You can go and look about three years back [at import data]”, said Colonel Hoffman. “This is not the normal up and down that occurs”

The pair presented the information to DHS’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, which declined to investigate, saying the drop reflected normal supply fluctuations.

However when Col Hoffman contacted one of America’s biggest hospital networks, HCA Healthcare, the organisation confirmed it was highly unusual.

Surgical gowns on backorder in September 2019

A representative of HCA, which operates around 200 hospitals and 2,000 clinics, reported surgical gowns and drapes went on backorder in late September 2019, leaving hospitals scrambling.

“I asked HCA folks if this had happened anytime recently”, Col Hoffman added.

“The answer was no—they could not remember ever seeing so much of this stuff on back order.”

David Asher, a former State Department official who played a key role in the pandemic response and now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, says the shortage was also caused by Chinese government efforts to buy up global PPE stocks in the US, Europe and Australia.

“It was a persistent uptick [of Chinese purchasing]”, said Dr Asher. “And it was significant enough that my colleagues at DHS heard about it from American companies that manufacture PPE, and most importantly from US hospitals reporting they weren’t able to get the normal supply of masks, gloves, gowns and goggles”.

China’s campaign to snatch up global PPE stocks and ship them back to China at the start of the pandemic in January and February 2020.

But earlier purchasing efforts from August and September 2019, call into question whether the Chinese were aware of an outbreak earlier.

Many experts now think that the Covid-19 could have leaked from experiments carried out at Dr Shi Zhengli’s lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which was studying bat-borne coronaviruses.

The restricting of PPE exports came around the same time that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) removed a database of bat virus gene sequences, which has never been restored.

Dr McGinn and Col Hoffman also consulted senior scientists at EcoHealth Alliance, the non-profit organisation known for funnelling US government funding to Dr Shi Zhengli’s lab at WIV.

The EcoHealth Alliance scientists confirmed that “the pandemic could not have started at the Wuhan wet market,” according to a source who requested anonymity for security reasons.

Studies also support the idea that Covid was around earlier than previously thought. A 2021 report by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an Italian boy was infected in November 2019.

A separate study by scientists in Milan found a woman had been infected that same month, while British research suggested the outbreak began as early as October 2019.

Experts say they are bewildered by the failure to investigate the PPE shortage which the argue amounts to a cover up. They claim that knowledge from an inquiry could have been critical to not just understanding the origin of the pandemic but to safeguarding the public.

“The DHS failure to further investigate led to them covering up their dereliction of duty”, added Col Hoffman, “which was then further hidden to gain deniability for [their] actions”. 

DHS have been approached for comment. 

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