Republicans Press for More Transparency on COVID Origin

Republicans Press for More Transparency on COVID Origin Republicans Press for More Transparency on COVID Origin (Dreamstime)

By Solange Reyner | Friday, 07 May 2021 09:18 PM

Republicans want answers on the origins of the coronavirus and say further investigation into the possibility of a lab leak in China is warranted.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., on Wednesday in a letter to Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), requested information on what role U.S. taxpayer dollars played in funding research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. He also questioned whether Fauci agreed with World Health Organization Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the need for a further investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

''Understanding the cause of this pandemic — and ensuring that something like it never happens again — is the most important question facing the world today,'' Gallagher wrote. ''Given the stakes, we cannot afford to settle for a limited, blinkered, or politicized understanding of the origin of this terrible disease.''

The NIAID funded a project at the Wuhan lab in 2014 through a $3.4 million grant given to New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, which aims to protect people from viruses that jump from species to species. The group hired the virology lab to conduct genetic analyses of bat coronaviruses collected in Yunnan province, paying it $598,500 over five years.

''While this funding was no doubt well-intentioned, taxpayers deserve a detailed understanding of whether federal resources supported dangerous 'gain-of-function' research, and whether this might have played a role in the outbreak of the pandemic,'' wrote Gallagher.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and two Republican colleagues also want answers. McMorris Rodgers on Thursday demanded the release of all unclassified documents and the declassification of others in relation to the assertion made by the State Department under former President Donald Trump in January that the Wuhan lab was concealing its work with the Chinese military and that several researchers had COVID-like symptoms in late 2019.

''We hope your statement about getting to the bottom of the origins of this pandemic includes looking at all possible causes, including the possibility of an accidental leak from a laboratory,'' the letter states.

Fauci has thrown cold water on the idea that a lab leak could be behind the coronavirus, but the World Health Organization said its mission in investigating such a notion was not ''extensive enough.''

A group of WHO-convened international experts attempted to study the source of the virus in Wuhan, where COVID was first detected, from mid-January to mid-February, but their findings were inconclusive.

"This report is a very important beginning, but it is not the end,'' Tedros said at the time. ''We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do. Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers."

Jamie Metzl, a member of the WHO advisory committee, on Wednesday said China needed to grant investigators full access to resources and data to allow for a thorough investigation into COVID.

"From the earliest days following the outbreak, Chinese authorities have been systematically destroying biological samples, hiding databases and other records, imprisoning citizen journalists, and strictly enforcing a gag order prohibiting Chinese scientists from writing or saying anything about pandemic origins without prior government approval," Metzl said in a recent interview with Fox News.

"If we had, right now, full and unrestricted access to all of the relevant records, samples and key personnel inside of China, I believe there is a real possibility we could identify the source of the pandemic within a short number of months."

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