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Report: US taxpayers could fund Chinese Wuhan lab until 2024

Medical workers at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China. (Xiong Qi/Xinhua via AP/TNS)
February 23, 2021

A Wuhan virology laboratory that is believed by some U.S. assessments to have been the source of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, is still eligible to receive U.S. taxpayer funding through the National Institute of Health (NIH), according to a new report by the Daily Caller News Foundation last week.

NIH officials confirmed to the Daily Caller that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in Wuhan, China is still eligible to receive funding for animal research through January 2024. The NIH is funded through congressional appropriations of U.S. taxpayer dollars.

The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare for the NIH currently lists the Wuhan lab as having a foreign assurance which, according to the NIH, makes the assurance holder eligible for Public Health Service (PHS). An NIH spokesperson told the Daily Caller the Wuhan lab had its foreign assurance renewed on Jan. 9, 2019, and that the assurance is good for five years, through Jan. 31, 2024.

According to the Daily Caller, the Wuhan lab received funding from the NIH through a partner nonprofit organization called EcoHealth Alliance. The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2014 EcoHealth Alliance received $3.4 million in funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to study coronaviruses in bats habitats in caves in China and how the viruses infect people. Between 2014 and 2019, $600,000 in NIH funding went to the Wuhan lab itself, according to the Daily Caller.

Wuhan, China is widely viewed as the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak and in the final days of President Donald Trump’s term, the U.S. State Department issued a fact sheet noting several potential connections between activities at the Wuhan lab and the virus outbreak. The fact sheet noted the lab had conducted research on a coronavirus strain with a 96.2% similarity to the SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 strain. The fact sheet also noted past accidental infections in Chinese labs, like a 2004 incident that saw an outbreak of SARS in Beijing that infected nine people and led to one death.

Fresh from their first investigative visit to Wuhan, World Health Organization (WHO) officials initially said the theory that COVID-19 originated in a lab “extremely unlikely” and did not warrant further study. Later, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said all hypotheses about the origins of the coronavirus outbreak “require further study.”

After WHO officials initially said the Wuhan lab outbreak theory was unlikely, President Joe Biden’s administration signaled it would not immediately accept the WHO’s assessment and would instead work to verify the findings first. Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, quickly questioned the Biden administration’s idea and cast doubt on U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts.

Daszak tweeted, “Well now this. @JoeBiden has to look tough on China. Please don’t rely too much on US intel: increasingly disengaged under Trump & frankly wrong on many aspects. Happy to help WH w/ their quest to verify, but don’t forget it’s “TRUST” then “VERIFY”!

According to the Wall Street Journal, NIAID renewed a $3.7 million grant with EcoHealth Alliance in 2019, which Daszak said he intended to use to study how SARS-like viruses in southern China were spreading to human populations. The NIH terminated the grant in April of 2020, reportedly saying the project didn’t align “program goals and agency prioritie.”

The NIH offered to restore the funding in July, if EcoHealth Alliance if it agreed to meet certain conditions, including arranging for an independent team to investigate whether the WIV possessed samples of the COVID-19 virus prior to the reported cases in Wuhan in December of 2019. In an August interview with NPR, Daszak called the NIH conditions “preposterous.”

“I’m not trained as a private detective,” he said. “It’s not really my job to do that.”