Republicans on the US House Intelligence Committee have claimed there is “significant circumstantial evidence” that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from a leak at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif, and Republicans on the panel released a report on Wednesday, first obtained by the Fox News channel, which is often accused of spreading far-right conspiracy theories, urging the Joe Biden administration to put “more pressure on China” to allow for a “full, credible investigation” into the source of the pandemic.
Devin Nunes himself is a key ally of former president Donald Trump, who repeatedly called the coronavirus the “Wuhan virus” and “China virus” and “kung flu”.
The report claimed that it is “crucial for health experts and the US government to understand how the COVID-19 virus originated”.
“International efforts to discover the true source of the virus… have been stymied by a lack of cooperation from the People’s Republic of China,” the Republicans wrote. “Nevertheless, significant circumstantial evidence raises serious concerns that the COVID-19 outbreak may have been a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
The report also claimed there are “clear signs” that US government agencies and academic institutions “may have funded or collaborated in Gain of Function research” at the Wuhan lab.
The research “was published even after the US 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”, it said.
“To protect American citizens from future pandemics, the US government must place more pressure on China to allow full, credible investigations of the source of the COVID-19 pandemic and to allow probes of the likelihood that it resulted from a lab leak,” the report said. “The US government must also provide a full accounting of any American cooperation with the Wuhan lab’s coronavirus research, including the support of these projects through US government funds.”
The report comes nearly three weeks after a noted British science writer, editor and author claimed in an article that researchers at Wuhan were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanised mice – exactly the kind of experiment from which a COVID-like virus could have emerged.
In the article titled ‘The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan’, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nicholas Wade raised several questions on the origin of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
The evidence adds up to a serious case that the SARS2 virus could have been created in a lab, from which it then escaped, wrote Wade, who refers to SARS-CoV-2 virus as SARS2 in short.
Wade though admitted that the “case, however substantial, falls short of proof”.
“Proof would consist of evidence from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or related labs in Wuhan, that SARS2 or a predecessor virus was under development there. For lack of access to such records, another approach is to take certain salient facts about the SARS2 virus and ask how well each is explained by the two rival scenarios of origin,” he wrote.
“For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer. Wuhan is home to China’s leading centre of coronavirus research where researchers were genetically engineering bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. They were doing so under the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 lab. If a virus with the unexpected infectiousness of SARS2 had been generated there, its escape would be no surprise,” he said.
The “proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favour natural emergence”, he wrote.
“It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanised mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising,” he said.
“In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanised mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses. What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2’s creation.”