Sarah Titterton with AFP bureaus
Washington (AFP) – Chinese hackers are trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine research, US authorities said Wednesday, ratcheting up tensions between the superpowers as markets slumped on warnings from the US Federal Reserve that prolonged shutdowns could cause “lasting damage”.
Europe, meanwhile, pushed ahead with plans to gradually reopen for summer tourism, even as fears persist of a second wave of infections in the pandemic that has forced more than half of humanity behind closed doors in recent months.
With some countries scrambling after a fresh surge in cases and the global death toll exceeding 294,000, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Wednesday that the virus “may never go away.”
Currently there is no proven therapy for COVID-19. An effective vaccine could allow countries to fully reopen and potentially earn millions of dollars for its creators.
With such high stakes, hackers linked to Beijing are attempting to steal research and intellectual property related to treatments and vaccines, two US security agencies warned Wednesday.
“China’s efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation’s response to COVID-19,” the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said.
Neither offered evidence or examples to support the allegation.
Washington has increasingly blamed Beijing for the outbreak caused by the virus that first emerged in China late last year.
Asked on Monday about earlier reports that the US believed Chinese hackers were targeting US vaccine research, President Donald Trump replied: “What else is new with China? What else is new? Tell me. I’m not happy with China.”
Beijing has repeatedly denied the US accusations.
– ‘Lasting damage’ –
The value of a vaccine was underscored as Jerome Powell, head of the US Federal Reserve, cautioned Wednesday that lingering shutdowns could cause “lasting” economic damage.
Powell’s warning burst the balloon on Wall Street, analysts said, with stocks sliding on the comments even as he also said the US economy should rebound “substantially” once the outbreak is reined in.