By Cassidy Morrison Senior Health Reporter for Dailymail.Com
Updated: 17.04 31 July 2023
A central California town is reeling after a nondescript warehouse turned out to be an illegal laboratory full of stockpiled biohazards, including coronavirus, HIV and malaria.
If it weren’t for a stray snake poking out of the back of the warehouse last spring, city officials wouldn’t have known that a shady biotech company with ties to China had set up shop there and stocked it with industrial freezers, hundreds of vials of pathogens and about 1,000 dead and dying laboratory mice.
Government investigators also found Covid diagnostic and pregnancy tests at the underground testing facility they believed were being developed there, in addition to at least 20 stored infectious agents, including coronavirus, HIV, hepatitis and herpes.
The lab was operated under a company called Prestige Biotech without a license to do business in California, whose president Xiuquin Yao said was a successor to the now-defunct company Universal Meditech Inc. But officials sent to addresses associated with the companies turned up at empty office buildings or addresses in China that could not be verified.
The months-long investigation resulted in early July in the proper disposal of all hazardous chemicals and substances, labeled and unlabeled, and while officials there note that an investigation into the lab’s origins is ongoing, people in the surrounding area are safe.
The black-market-type lab operating in the sleepy town of Reedley, Calif., was brought to official attention in early March when a code enforcement officer driving down the street noticed a garden hose sticking out of a building where it didn’t belong. should have been.
That lucky catch sparked a combined state, local and federal investigation the likes of which Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba had never seen before.
Mrs. Zieba said: ‘This is an unusual situation. I have been in government for 25 years. I have never seen anything like that.’
A warrant issued shortly after the official came across the violation of the code allowed those in the government to search the nondescript building, where they were shocked by what they found.
In one room were about 1,000 inhumanely kept white laboratory mice, of which about 200 were already dead. According to Fresno County Department of Public Health Assistant Director Joe Prado, the lab conducted tests on the mice that would help develop the Covid test kits found at the site.
Prado said: ‘They used lab mice to see if the Covid test kits actually tested for Covid. So that was the purpose of the lab mice on site.’
Sir. Prado did not add whether any of these Covid tests had been given or sold to the public.
They also found a wide variety of vials containing biomaterials, including blood and tissue, as well as many other unlabeled chemicals, some of which were found to contain the coronavirus, as well as bacterial and viral pathogens, including HIV, chlamydia, E. Coli, streptococcus pneumonia, hepatitis B and C, herpes 1 and 5, rubella and malaria.
Sir. Prado added: ‘Here in the public health department, we run our own laboratory, so we were very familiar with the legal requirements and how to maintain and control an infectious agent. And there was just a complete absence of those controls in place at the warehouse.’
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More than 40 facilities certified as Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) or BSL-4 have either been built or are under construction since 2020, predominantly across Asia.
In addition to finding nearly a thousand lab mice either dead or in distress, court documents revealed investigators also found refrigerators and freezers with blood and containers labeled as ‘serum or plasma’.
The officials were tasked with determining the provenance of the mysterious lab, which turned out to be run by Prestige BioTech registered in Las Vegas.
City officials identified Xiuquin Yao as the company’s presidentthat said Prestige BioTech moved operations to the Reedley warehouse formerly operated by a now-defunct company called Universal Meditech Inc. Prestige was identified as UMI’s successor, according to court documents.
But when officials were tasked with searching for locations linked to both companies, they turned up abandoned offices or found associated addresses back in China that they could not verify.
City officials maintain that those operating under the name Prestige BioTech have not been forthcoming with information, although the investigation is ongoing and more answers may emerge later.
Ms Zieba said: ‘There are no more biologicals. There are no more mice, but they will still see us get rid of 30 freezers and refrigerators, medical equipment and all kinds of furniture in there. They will still see some activity, nothing dangerous at this point.
“Some of our federal partners still have active investigations going on, I can only speak to the construction side of it.”