A new order from the Chinese government requiring research on COVID-19 to be “strictly and tightly managed” has been scrubbed from the internet.
The notice, which applies more checks and vetting from the government on academic research relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, was posted online late last week by two Chinese universities.
The directive, issued by the Ministry of Education’s science and technology department, states that “academic papers about tracing the origin of the virus must be strictly and tightly managed”.
It outlines how academic research will have to first be checked by the academic committees at the relevant universities.
It will then be sent to the Ministry of Education’s science and technology department, and then onto a taskforce under the State Council.
The research will be vetted for things including “academic value” and “timing for publishing” before being allowed to be posted to journals around the world.
Only once a university has received approval from the State Council taskforce is it allowed to submit the paper for publication.
The document was posted publicly by the Fudan University in Shanghai but was quickly taken down, as CNN reported.
A staff member from the university said the notice was an “internal document” only and was not meant to be posted publicly.
A similar notice was also posted online by the China University of Geoscience in Wuhan and subsequently removed.
A cached version of the notice can still be found though.
The controversial notice since removed from the internet.
A Chinese researcher told CNN they are concerned that the new vetting process is part of the China government’s attempts to “control the narrative” around the spread of COVID-19 and its own actions.
“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,” the researcher told CNN.
“And I don’t think they will really tolerate any objective study to investigate the origination of this disease.”
The notices said the new direction is based on instructions issued as part of a meeting held by the State Council’s taskforce on the prevention and control of COVID-19 on 25 March.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 at the start of the year, Chinese researchers have published a number of important studies on the virus in journals around the world, helping to understand the spread and efforts to combat this.
Some of the studies have raised serious questions over the actions of the Chinese government and what it knew and when.
Chinese University of Hong Kong respiratory medicine expert David Hui Shu-cheong said there had not been any similar restrictions when he and a team of researchers published a clinical analysis of coronavirus cases in early February.
“The process was really simple then,” he told CNN. “There was completely no restriction at all.
“I don’t know if it is because some researchers published something that is considered sensitive domestically in China.
“I’m not sure if it is because of the controversy about the origin of the virus later, and the non-sensitive stuff becomes sensitive too.”