- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2021

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report Monday that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 leaked from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in August or early September 2019 and that Chinese officials took part in “the greatest coverup of all time.”

The evidence, provided in an update of Rep. Michael T. McCaul’s report in September on the origins of COVID-19, suggests SARS-CoV-2, which had been genetically manipulated, was released from the laboratory accidentally in August or September 2019, according to the report’s authors.

The investigating team said several key findings pointed to a leak, including the unexplained removal of a Wuhan Institute of Virology virus database in September 2019, Chinese officials’ expressions of safety concerns and unusually scheduled maintenance at the lab.

The authors also noted that several athletes at the Military World Games in Wuhan fell ill with COVID-like symptoms in October 2019, hospitalizations in the region surrounding the lab ticked up the same month, and a People’s Liberation Army bioweapons expert was appointed to head the biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) lab as early as 2019.

“As we continue to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe it’s time to completely dismiss the wet market as the source of the outbreak,” Mr. McCaul said. “Instead, as this report lays out, a preponderance of the evidence proves that all roads lead to the WIV.”

Former President Donald Trump has long blamed China for spreading the coronavirus and angered Democrats by referring to it as “the China virus.” Some Democrats have dismissed the suggestion that the virus originated in a lab as a “conspiracy theory.” 

A wet market in Wuhan initially was determined to be the source of the coronavirus.

During a campaign-style rally in June, Mr. Trump seized on new reports about the virus’ possible origins from the lab. “I said it comes out of Wuhan — it comes out of the lab,” he told supporters.

President Biden ordered U.S. intelligence agencies in May to speed up their investigation into the origins of the virus and to report back within 90 days. He ordered intelligence agencies to investigate “whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” He said at the time that those agencies “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”

The House Republicans’ conclusion is based on an analysis of open-source information, including published research, public and confidential publications from the People’s Republic of China, and information gathered from emails, interviews and social media.

“We know gain-of-function research was happening at the WIV, and we know it was being done in unsafe conditions,” said Mr. McCaul, Texas Republican. “We also now know the head of the Chinese CDC and the director of the WIV’s BSL-4 lab publicly expressed concerns about safety at PRC labs in the summer of 2019. It is our belief the virus leaked sometime in late August or early September 2019.”

The report also concludes that WIV researchers and Chinese officials worked to suppress information related to the investigation into the virus’ origins and “suppress public debate of a possible lab leak.”

Notably, the report points to the lengths the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization went to cover up the outbreak early on. The Communist Party detained doctors and journalists, destroyed lab samples and barred a full-scale probe into the origins by international investigators.

“This was the greatest coverup of all time and has caused the deaths of more than four million people around the world, and people must be held responsible,” Mr. McCaul said.

He said it is “no longer appropriate for anyone to dismiss the notion this virus could have been genetically modified before it leaked from the WIV.”

The report said unusual activity was detected at the Wuhan lab in July 2019 and that a request was made for a $1.5 million overhaul of a hazardous waste treatment system for the facility, which was less than 2 years old.

That request included maintenance on an environmental air disinfection system and “hazardous waste treatment system,” suggesting concerns about the operation of the systems meant to prevent lab leaks, the report states.

The report said the virus escaped before Sept. 12, the day urgent inspections were ordered and the lab’s viral sequence database disappeared from the internet.

The report cited “ample evidence” that the lab’s scientists, helped by U.S. experts and Chinese and U.S. taxpayer funds, were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and that such manipulation could be hidden.

In 2014, the National Institutes of Health awarded a grant to the U.S.-based EcoHealth Alliance to study the threat of coronaviruses from bats. The project was renewed in 2019 for another five years. The Wuhan lab received nearly $600,000 from the grants as a collaborator on the project.

EcoHealth Alliance did not respond to The Washington Times’ request for comment.

The report is being released as Congress escalates bipartisan calls to hold China accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the Senate included measures to end federal funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology and all gain-of-function research in China as part of the Innovation and Competition Act. The measure was passed by a 68-32 vote.

Last month, the House Appropriations Committee passed several measures attached to spending bills that would end U.S. taxpayer funding for the lab, cut funding for certain medical experiments in China and investigate why the coronavirus gene sequencing data was removed from the National Institutes of Health.

House Republicans in June held a hearing on the origins of the virus and said overwhelming evidence pointed to research at the WIV. The hearing included testimony from four public health professionals who said evidence indicated that the virus originated from the lab rather than through naturally occurring transmission of the infectious disease.

“Now is the time to use all of the tools the U.S. government has to continue to root out the full truth of how this virus came to be,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement accompanying the release of the report. He said he is considering a subpoena for an official of EcoHealth Alliance to answer questions about the company’s work in Wuhan.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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