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Virologists Escorted Out of Lab in Canada

Police are investigating “possible policy breaches” at the National Microbiology Laboratory.

Jul 16, 2019
Chia-Yi Hou

ABOVE: University of Manitoba
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Canada’s national police force is investigating “possible policy breaches” after researchers were escorted from a lab at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, CBC News reported earlier this week (July 14). Prominent virologist Xiangguo Qiu, her colleague and husband Keding Cheng, and an unknown number of her students from China were removed from the lab on July 5. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said that it advised the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) about “possible policy breaches” in May, according to Reuters. The University of Manitoba, where Qiu held a non-salaried adjunct faculty position, cut ties with Qiu as a result of the RCMP investigation, according to CBC News.

Qiu had made regular trips to Beijing, and recent requests for trips were denied, according to the CBC. Sources also told the outlet that IT specialists entered her office after hours and replaced her computer several months ago.

Qiu was part of the team that developed ZMapp, an experimental treatment for Ebola used during the 2014 outbreak in West Africa. Heinz Feldmann, the former head of the National Microbiology Lab’s special pathogens program where Qiu worked, tells the National Post, “I still hope that this is a big misunderstanding. She is a great researcher, she has been a great collaborator, she has been a great interacter in the field.” A conference bio says she joined Cancer Care Manitoba in 1997 and NML in 2003, according to the National Post. The facility where she worked is the only biosafety level 4 lab in Canada, meaning that it is equipped to work with the most dangerous pathogens. 

PHAC and the RCMP refused to comment on Qiu’s removal from NML, according to Reuters. “There is no employee from the NML under arrest or confined to their home,” Eric Morrisette, spokesman for the PHAC, tells Reuters. “We can assure Canadians that there is no risk to the public and that the work of the NML continues in support of the health and safety of all Canadians.”

Chia-Yi Hou is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at chou@the-scientist.com.

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