Did a Biogen member of staff take her COVID-19 infection to Beijing on a Plane?

87A meeting held in Boston by Biogen Management in late February has had 108 presumptive positive or confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and has led to a fully fledged criminal investigation. Beijing police released a statment on Monday, saying that they had filed an investigation into a woman named Li, who hid her health status when she entered China, which is a potential criminal offence. It has been confirmed by a spokesperson from Biogen that “Ms. Li is a U.S.-based Biogen employee who made a personal decision to travel to China.”

Li’s case was at first disclosed by the Chinese government during a recent coronavirus press briefing. The authorities said she attended a company meeting on February the 26th and 27th, keeping the name of her employer under wraps. However these are the exact days Biogen’s 175-person leadership conference was held. Li, 37, who is a permanent Massachusetts resident and a Chinese citizen, has not been allowed a COVID-19 test in that particular state, said Chinese authorities. Li flew back to Beijing with symptoms known to be connected with COVID-19, local officials said.

A representative from Air China said that Li took the CA988 flight from LA to Beijing on the 12th of March. Li told the flight attendant she was feeling under the weather an hour after take off. Her temperature at the time proved normal, but she admitted that a week prior to the flight, she had felt symptoms similar, so the flight attendant moved her to the tail of the aircraft, where there was a quarantine zone.

The stewardess was also told by Li that she hadn’t taken any medicine prior to boarding the flight and she was travelling alone. However, it was discovered that both of those statements were not true: as she later told the flight attendant, two hours before the plane landed in Beijing, that she was actually travelling with her husband and son, and on top of that, she had taken antipyretic before she boarded the plane. She also admitted one of her work colleagues at the U.S. firm where she worked had been infected.

According to Beijing’s CDC, Li was confirmed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 on March the 13th, and both of her family members that she boarded the plane with were put into the suspected category. 59 people who were on the flight with Li have been identified as close contacts at risk of infection. The reason that Li travelled to Beijing when she had already fallen ill, with symptoms that were consistent with the coronavirus, was that she was denied a coronavirus test in Massachusetts.

Li said she had started to feel some symptoms for example chills on the 1st of March, according to Chinese Authorities, and two days later had gone to see a doctor in Massachusetts, where she was given influenza medication: Roche’s Tamiflu. On March the 5th and March the 10th, she went for chest scans, and there were no abnormalities. However, she went for a third on the 11th of March, and there were signs of lung infections. She requested to be tested three times for SARS-CoV-2 three separate times, but all were rejected. There were already cases confirmed that were linked to the Biogen Meeting by March the 6th. The two main criteria for coronavirus testing are exposure to an infected person or having symptoms. It wasn’t explained by Chinese officials why Li was denied a test in the U.S.

Currently, Li is being treated at a designated coronavirus hospital in Beijing, while her son and husband remain in observation. Li’s case has been put on file because of suspected obstruction of the prevention of infectious disease, Beijing police said. Biogen have released a statement saying, “We are deeply dismayed by the situation as reported by the media in China.”

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