KEY POINTS

  • As per the directive, the Education Ministry should review papers before they are published
  • The notice was published in two universities' websites before being taken down 
  • The restrictions suggest China's efforts to control the narrative regarding COVID-19

Recent evidence suggests China may be trying to censor research on the origins of COVID-19. The now-deleted notice on two universities' websites stated studies about the origins of the virus must first be approved by central government officials before publication.

"Academic papers on the traceability of the new coronavirus must be reviewed by the academic committee of the school before publication, focusing on the authenticity of the paper and whether it is suitable for publication," a cached version of the notice from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan stated. "After the review is passed, the school reports to the Ministry of Science and Technology, which can only be published after the review by the Ministry of Science and Technology."

The directive was issued by the Education Ministry's science and technology department. The document was first posted on two university websites Friday (April 10), but was taken down hours later.

According to CNN, which contacted the Education Ministry's science and technology department, they were told by a person who refused to divulge his name the notice was an internal document that was not supposed to be made public.

Such strict measures were not in place for earlier studies on COVID-19. An anonymous Chinese researcher told CNN the Chinese government's move was worrying.

"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 said. "And I don't think they will really tolerate any objective study to investigate the origination of this disease."

Officials from the U.S. as well as other countries have criticized China for not being transparent about the coronavirus and its origins, Newsweek reported. In fact, there have been reports of local Chinese officials suppressing information about the initial outbreak.

In March, Reuters also reported a Toronto-based cyber research group called Citizen lab found similar actions wherein Chinese social media platforms were censoring coronavirus-related keywords as well as criticisms of the government's response to the crisis.

The exact origin of COVID-19 is yet to be established, but it was first discovered in Wuhan. Since then, the outbreak has turned into a full-blown pandemic that has affected the entire world and brought the epicenter from China to the United States. 

To date, COVID-19 has infected over 1,800,000 and killed over 114,000 people according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

The coronavirus first emerged in China, where tens of thousands have been infected The coronavirus first emerged in China, where tens of thousands have been infected. Photo: AFP / NOEL CELIS