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A Chinese scientist who first decoded the COVID-19 virus held a sit-in protest outside his lab on Monday after authorities allegedly locked him out of it, the latest in a series of attacks by China on scientists working on the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

In an online post, Zhang Yongzhen wrote that guards prevented him from accessing his lab over the weekend. In response, he laid flattened cardboard outside the facility and sat there overnight despite the rain.

“I won’t leave, I won’t quit, I am pursuing science and the truth!” he said in a now-deleted post on social media platform Weibo.

His protest echoed among tens of millions of Chinese netizens, the Guardian reported. “How can the country develop if we treat scientific researchers like this?” one wrote.

Shanghai health authorities said Zhang’s lab was closed for renovation, adding that he was provided with an alternative space to conduct his research. But Zhang responded that the offer of an alternative only came after the eviction and that the new lab did not meet safety requirements.

This latest issue for Zhang underscores how China has sought to control information related to the virus: An Associated Press investigation found that the government froze meaningful domestic and international efforts to trace it from the beginning of the outbreak. It is a pattern that continues to this day, the newswire wrote, with labs closed, collaborations shattered, foreign scientists forced out and Chinese researchers barred from leaving the country.

The row between Zhang and the Chinese government began on Jan. 5, 2020, when the scientist and his team decoded SARS-CoV-2 and warned his agency of the risks of the virus spreading. By then, dozens of people had already been admitted to hospitals in Wuhan for a “mystery” pneumonia.

Upon requests from foreign scientists, Zhang released the virus’ sequence six days later without government permission. The move paved the way for the development of test kits, measures to curb the outbreak and vaccines, earning Zhang multiple prizes.

But it also cost him his job and threatened his career: He was fired from his post at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and faced obstacles to his research, including a ban on collaborating with former colleagues.

“I don’t regret anything I did. I trusted myself,” Zhang told the New York Times in 2021.

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