California Officials Close Down Bootleg Chinese Lab Brimming With Infectious Agents Such as Covid, HIV

In addition to the pathogens, investigators found hundreds of chemicals, a thousand mice — many of them dead — and bootleg Covid and pregnancy tests. apparently developed on site.

AP/Carolyn Kaster, file
A covid vaccine dose. AP/Carolyn Kaster, file

Health authorities in California are scrambling to reassure the public in the San Joaquin Valley after an illegal, Chinese-owned biotech lab storing dangerous pathogens such as Covid, HIV, herpes, and malaria in haphazard and unsafe conditions was raided and shut down.

Officials in Reedley, California, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles in the state’s central valley, discovered the facility in April after an inspector noticed a suspicious garden hose protruding from the wall of the nondescript warehouse. Only recently, however, did testing from the Centers for Disease Control confirm the hazardous nature of the material found.

In addition to the pathogens, investigators found hundreds of chemicals being stored in unlabeled containers, a room with as many as a thousand mice — hundreds of which were dead — and bootleg Covid and pregnancy tests apparently developed on site. The CDC identified at least 20 different potentially infectious viral and parasitic agents in the lab, which authorities believe was operational from October of 2022 until the spring of 2023.

“Certain rooms of the warehouse were found to contain several vessels of liquid and various apparatus,” according to court documents cited in local press reports. “Fresno County Public Health staff also observed blood, tissue and other bodily fluid samples and serums; and thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspected biological material.”

“I’ve never seen this in my 26-year career with the County of Fresno,” the Assistant Director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health, Joe Prado, told NBC affiliate KSEE-TV in Fresno. “They were utilizing laboratory mice to see whether or not the Covid test kits were actually testing for Covid. So that was the purpose for the laboratory mice on-site.”

Investigators said the building was being leased by a Nevada firm, Prestige BioTech. The firm’s president, Xiuquin Yao, told authorities that the equipment was moved to Reedley following the bankruptcy of another firm, Universal Meditech Inc., of which Prestige was a creditor, but he has been less-than-forthcoming with authorities about many other details about the facility. Addresses “provided for identified authorized agents were either empty offices or addresses in China that could not be verified,” according to the court documents.

City officials said the infectious agents have all been destroyed and the site does not pose a public health threat at this point. “There are no more biologicals,” the Reedly city manager, Nicole Zeiba, said. “There are no more mice, but they still will see us abating, 30 freezers and fridges, medical equipment, and all sorts of furniture in there. They’ll still see some activity, nothing hazardous at this point.”

The New York Sun

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