An online petition in the Philippines is seeking to urge the World Health Organization to investigate the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland for its possible link to the global spread of COVID-19.
The petition, which was initiated by Manila-based internet radio Global Talk News Radio, cited a laboratory incident in July 2019 which pushed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to shut down the facility because of "serious safety violations in particular relating to the disposal of dangerous materials". This "lab leak" is believed to have caused strange "vaping sickness" and "strange flu" in the United States at that time.
"To this day, Fort Detrick remains too dangerous a mystery to be ignored by WHO experts," read the online petition which was published on Change.org.
The petitioners said it is "preposterous for the United States to be pressuring WHO and its director-general to waste precious time by sending a second mission to Wuhan. There is no new allegation indicating China any deeper".
"On the other hand, there are too many serious and credible reports raised by the experts of other countries pointing to COVID-19 incidences in their own territories, prior to the discovery of the virus in China as of Dec 31, 2019," they said.
Leomil Aportedera, a Filipino doctor, is one of the signatories of the petition. He said he signed the petition after researching about the lab incident in Fort Detrick.
He said everyone needs to focus in "widening the search net for the source of this pandemic".
Herman Tiu Laurel, veteran journalist and analyst, is among the group of Filipino journalists, entrepreneurs and scholars behind the petition drive. The petition was formally launched in an Aug 5 virtual press briefing in Manila.
"There are many views about this virus and that's precisely our point to expand the discussion, to expand the investigation so that we can have a thorough and comprehensive understanding (of COVID-19)," Laurel said.
He said the group will reach out to other organizations and think tanks in the Southeast Asian region to launch similar petitions.
Laurel has criticized politicizing the tracing of the virus origin. He said many "serious and credible reports" by scientists and international media companies showed the possibility that COVID-19 existed in the US and Europe even before the first COVID-19 case was reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.
Science, not racism
The online campaign, which has amassed hundreds of signatures so far, also calls on "certain countries" to stop politicizing COVID-19.
"We, therefore, affix our marks to this appeal, hopeful that in joining millions around the globe seeking a common ground to allow science, not politics and not racism, to rule," read the petition.
According to links offered in the petition, online news site New Jersey reported that Michael Melham, mayor of Belleville town in New Jersey, said he had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies five months after suffering from "chills, hallucinations and a skyrocketing temperature" in November 2019.
Laurel also cited the World Military Games held in Wuhan in October 2019 where the wife of a Fort Detrick employee reportedly collapsed in the middle of a cycling event. He also quoted an April 2020 report from The Times of Israel, which said the US alerted Israel and NATO about a disease outbreak in China in November 2019.
Moreover, SARS-CoV-2 was also detected in samples collected from Italy's Milan and Turin sewage in December 2019 and in samples of wastewater collected in March 2019 from Barcelona, Spain. Japan has also detected a COVID-19 infected patient as early as August 2019.