There is “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” backing the theory that the COVID-19 pandemic began in a lab in China, a report released Wednesday by House Intelligence Committee Republicans has concluded.
Led by ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the report assesses the Wuhan Institute of Virology was secretly working with the Chinese military, conducting risky gain-of-function research, the Washington Examiner reported.
The 21-page Republican report, “In Focus: COVID-19 and the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” also presents evidence that the U.S. funded the lab’s gain-of-function research after support for such research had been suspended in 2014 by the Obama administration.
The idea of “gain of function” is to increase the virulence and transmissiblity of a virus that is regarded as a potential threat to humans. The data is then used to begin developing vaccines and treatments in case of an outbreak. The obvious risk is that an experimental virus programmed to be highly contagious and powerful could be accidentally released. And that is what a growing number of scientists and lawmakers such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., believe happened after more than a year of media, politicians and top health officials dismissing the scenario as a “conspiracy theory.”
On Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky admitted in response to queries by Republican Sen. John Kennedy that it’s “possible” the COVID-19 virus could have leaked “from a lab.”
Last week, as WND reported, a group of 18 prominent scientists published a paper in the journal Science calling for an investigation into the origins of the pandemic, insisting an accidental leak from a lab cannot be ruled out.
The open letter came on the heels of Sen. Paul confronting White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci on the issue, and a former Science editor publishing a lengthy analysis concluding the evidence points to a lab leak.
The 18 scientists said the lab theory was not given “balanced consideration” in the investigation of the pandemic’s origin by a team commissioned by the World Health Organization. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have cast doubt on the joint China-WHO probe and accused Beijing of thwarting an independent investigation into the origins of the virus. The WHO-China report concluded a jump from animals to humans was most likely.
‘Stymied by China’
But the Republican report finds the “threads of circumstantial information suggest the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and resulting COVID-19 pandemic could have been the result of an accidental leak from the WIV, particularly given the absence of credible information that supports a zoonotic transmission.”
“Unfortunately, Beijing has hindered the conduct of a full, credible investigation. There is overwhelming circumstantial evidence, however, to support a lab leak as the origination of COVID-19, while there is no substantive evidence supporting the natural zoonosis hypothesis.”
The report points out that Chinese authorities “have failed to identify the original species that allegedly spread the virus to humans, which is critical to their zoonotic transfer theory.”
A fact sheet released by the State Department in January noted the Wuhan lab has a “published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.” The research includes experiments on a bat coronavirus that is 96.2% similar to SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 virus. The State Department also found that the lab “has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military.”
The Republican report argued the U.S. government and health experts need to find out how the pandemic began so that future pandemics can be prevented or mitigated, but China has “stymied” that effort.
“Nevertheless, significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID19 outbreak may have been a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
The report says the evidence includes:
- China’s “history of research lab leaks” resulting in infections
- Multiple “warnings from U.S. diplomats in China as early as 2017 that the Wuhan lab was conducting dangerous research on coronaviruses without following necessary safety protocols” that risked a potential outbreak
- “Gain of Function research being conducted at the Wuhan lab that made coronaviruses more infectious in humans” and evidence that “several researchers at Wuhan lab were sickened with COVID-19-like symptoms” in the fall of 2019
- The “involvement in the Wuhan lab of the Chinese military, which has a documented biological weapons program”
- “Multiple indications of attempts by Beijing to cover up the true circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
The report said there also are “clear signs that U.S. Government agencies and academic institutions may have funded or collaborated in Gain of Function research at the Wuhan lab.”
“At least some of this research was published even after the U.S. Government had paused these kinds of studies in the United States due to ethical concerns over their biowarfare applicability and their potential to accidentally unleash a pandemic … Given the Chinese government’s documented biological weapons program, it is difficult to understand why the U.S. Government permitted collaborative research at the WIV, which had a known Chinese military presence.”
CDC director: ‘Certainly a lab-based origin is one possibility’
At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., asked the CDC’s Walensky how she believes the pandemic began.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen enough data, individual data for me to be able to comment on that,” she replied.
Kennedy asked what the possibilities are.
“Certainly the possibilities of, that most coronaviruses that we know of are of origin from, that have infected the population — SARS CoV-1, MERS — generally come from an animal origin,” she said.
Kennedy followed: “Are there any other possibilities?”
“Certainly a lab-based origin is one possibility,” Walensky said.
Kennedy then asked whether the United States was funding any “gain-of- function” research.
“Not that I know of,” she replied.
Sen. Paul said last Thursday that while there’s no hard proof yet regarding the origin, it’s becoming clearer that Fauci “could be culpable for the entire pandemic.”
Two days earlier, Paul confronted Fauci in a Senate hearing, asking him directly if the NIH funded “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan lab. Fauci declared “the NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute.”
Fauci has dismissed the lab-leak scenario for more than a year. At a news conference in April 2020, he cited a study led by computational biologist Kristian Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute in California concluding SARS-CoV-2 “is not a purposefully manipulated virus.”
However, as WND reported, former Science journal editor and New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade pointed out in a lengthy analysis supporting the lab-leak theory that Anderson’s argument was “full of absurdly large holes.”
The study followed a February 2020 letter signed by a group of virologists and others published in the eminent British science journal The Lancet insisting on a natural origin and condeming “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
Scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they said, calling on readers to stand with Chinese colleagues on the frontline of fighting the disease.
But Wade showed how the signatories “were assuring the public of facts they could not know for sure were true.” It later turned out that the letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York.
Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But this “acute conflict of interest” was not disclosed to The Lancet’s readers, Wade noted. To the contrary, the letter concluded, “We declare no competing interests.”
And, significantly, Daszak was the sole American representative on the WHO team investigating the pandemic’s origin.
‘A proper investigation’
The 18 scientists pointed out in their letter last week that along with the WHO director, 13 other countries and the European Union believe “greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve,” the 18 scientists wrote.
“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” they said. “A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest.”
They also call on public health agencies and research laboratories to “open their records to the public.”
One of the 18 scientists is virologist Dr. Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina, who was spotlighted by Paul in the Senate hearing last week as a collaborator with the Wuhan lab’s Dr. Shi Zhengli on gain-of-function research on bat viruses.
That collaboration also was mentioned in Wade’s analysis. He said that after working with Baric, Shi “returned to her lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and resumed the work she had started on genetically engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells.”
Grant proposals, which are public record, show funds were assigned to Shi’s prime contractor, the EcoHealth Alliance, for research constructing novel coronaviruses and assessing their ability to infect human cells.
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