New documents unveiled on Tuesday provide new insights into the score and goal of US-funded research on coronavirus at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China and raise new questions about the origins of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has more than 4.5 million people around the globe.
The more than 900 pages of documents obtained from the online investigative news site The Intercept through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offer previously unknown details of U.S.-based EcoHealth Alliance bat-coronavirus research funded by the laboratory National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
The documents include the EcoHealth Alliance’s project updates related to the research and two previously unpublished grant proposals funded by NIAID.
One of the grants to the EcoHealth Alliance in 2014 underlined a $ 599,000 study at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) – located in the Chinese city where the first COVID cases were officially identified in late 2019 – which aimed to “identifying and modifying bat coronavirus is likely to infect humans.” Researchers and governments disagree on whether the deadly coronavirus evolved naturally from exposure to an infected animal or somehow leaked from the laboratory as a result of research conducted there.
The documents make it clear that the researchers were aware of the risks of their studies and indicated in the grant proposal that the fieldwork would involve “the greatest risk of exposure to SARS or other [coronaviruses], while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled. ”
The grant, entitled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergency,” was led by EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak and involved experimental work with humanized mice at Wuhan University for Animal Experiment, a biosafety laboratory in the Wuhan complex that was not considered to have the institute’s highest level of security protocols.
The grant, which had been funded for five years, was renewed in 2019. The Trump administration suspended the grant in April 2020.
Mr. Daszak has been among the most prominent and loudest voices rejecting theories that the virus could have leaked from a laboratory accident, telling CBS ‘”60 Minutes” in March that there was no evidence that the virus even existed in the laboratory before. The COVID-19 outbreak.
“For an accidental leak that then led to COVID happening, the virus that causes COVID should be in the laboratory,” Daszak said. “They never had signs of a virus like COVID in the lab.”
EcoHealth Alliance’s communications manager Robert Kessler acknowledged that the company was conducting the research, which was revealed in the documents when asked about the grant.
“We applied for grants for research,” Kessler told The Intercept. “The relevant agencies considered it to be important research and therefore funded it. So I do not know that there is much to say. ”
Another grant outlined in the documents was awarded in August 2020 to study methods of responding to an “emerging infectious disease” outbreak to include deployment of resources to Asia, which the grant authors identified as “the hottest of [emerging infectious disease] hotspots. ”
U.S. lawmakers have been skeptical of the World Health Organization’s assessment by a team of international and Chinese specialists that a laboratory leak of the virus was “extremely unlikely.”
Last September, the top Republican in the House Foreign Affairs Committee rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas reported on the origin of COVID-19 and in August released an update suggesting that SARS-CoV-2, which had been genetically engineered, was accidentally released from the lab in August or September 2019 .
The investigation 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 laboratory.
Chinese state media cracked down on the report shortly after it was published, calling the report “contemptible” and politically motivated.
Other lawmakers have grilled NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci on grants to the WIV through the EcoHealth Alliance, which some have claimed included “gain-of-function” research in the laboratory designed to create even more contagious variations of the disease to investigate their properties.
In July, Senator Rand Paul, a Republican in Kentucky, accused Dr. Fauci for lying to Congress after a statement in May when Dr. Fauci told Congress that the NIH has never funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Lab.
Dr. Fauci denied the accusation, insisting that the U.S. government has never funded gain-of-function research in the Wuhan laboratory.
In May, the Biden administration instructed U.S. intelligence services to take a fresh look at the virus’ origins to determine if laboratory leakage claims held any water. Last month, the intelligence community said its assessment of the virus’ origin is still inconceivable.