Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (1st District of Nebraska)
For 15 months, our nation has rightly focused on combatting and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to Congressionally approved fast-track drug development, over 50% of American adults are now vaccinated. Schools, hotels, restaurants, and other small businesses are opening up. Even as COVID variants slow re-openings elsewhere in the world, in America a kind of post-war euphoria is taking hold.
While daily life may never completely return to a pre-pandemic “normal”––remote work, Zoom calls, ordering meals through delivery apps are here to stay––we are seeing the resumption of rituals that make life worth living: sporting events, weddings, family vacations. As we make this hard-earned turn, a critical piece of COVID business remains: how do we prevent a global viral travesty from happening again?
The quest for answers starts by understanding how COVID-19 originated and quickly spread, and who bears responsibility. The prevailing assumption has been that the virus jumped from bats to another species before leaping to humans at the Huanan wholesale market in Wuhan, China, where some early COVID cases appeared. This “wet market” theory oddly persists even though bats were not sold at the Huanan Market, an intermediary animal host for the viral transfer to humans has not been found, and the extreme unlikelihood of inter-species transmission from bats, located 900 miles away from Wuhan, in the middle of a Wuhan winter in which bats would be hibernating. To date, no bat population with the novel coronavirus has ever been located. In fact, no human or animal was ever found with the virus before 2019. Just as the wet market theory was being put to the test last year, the Chinese government destroyed lab samples from the Huanan Market, shuttered the market, and sent a team of Wall Street Journal investigative reporters looking into the theory packing.
Recently, a longstanding competing narrative, the leaky-lab theory, has gained traction. The Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention (WCDCP), which holds hundreds of bat samples, is a short walk from the Huanan Market. When COVID first arose, the notion that the virus might have leaked from the WDCDP or the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was roundly rejected by experts in Washington. Media and social media companies canceled, censored, dismissed many who made the claim, including a U.S. President. Those of us who’ve dealt with Chinese government manipulation for years quietly said, “not so fast.”
Confirming our suspicions, recent intelligence suggests that three researchers from the WIV became ill with COVID-like symptoms and sought hospital care in November 2019, a full month before the Communist Party of China (CCP) publicly reported the country’s first COVID-19 case. As U.S. intelligence lends increased credibility to the lab-leak thesis, experts in Washington are sounding less dismissive. Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was recently asked if he was convinced COVID-19 developed naturally. He replied: “no, actually, I am not convinced about that. I think we should . . . investigate what went on in China.” This is an important acknowledgment from a widely followed public health official, who, just-released emails confirm, learned from an outside researcher in January 2020 that the COVID-19 genome showed signs of genetic manipulation, making it remarkably easy for human-to-human transmission.
Knowing how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) politicized the World Health Organization (WHO), silenced and disappeared COVID whistleblowers, and spread disinformation about the pandemic, investigating “what went on in China” requires greater transparency from China and the WHO on what they knew and when they knew it. It’s why I recently signed onto a letter calling on House committee chairs to seriously review the mounting evidence of Chinese culpability in the origins, spread, and cover-up of COVID-19. A proper forensic analysis of Chinese wet markets, hospitals, and government laboratories necessitates access by a public-private team of experts, including from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other centers with COVID expertise, such as our own University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).
Complicating this investigation, however, are reports that Dr. Fauci’s own National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases partially funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which not only possesses one of the world’s largest collections of bat viruses but has been conducting experiments to make coronaviruses more infectious for humans. This might explain the strange incuriosity and slow-rolling of probes into the lab-leak theory. To date, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has not shared any raw data, safety logs, or lab records on its development and testing of novel coronaviruses.
Today is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. It reminds us of a larger theme with which all Americans must grapple. Due to China’s lax labor and environmental laws, for decades we have outsourced the manufacturing of our “stuff” to the People’s Republic. Now, it seems, we have outsourced the dirty work of coronavirus research, with possible bioweapon implications, to a Chinese lab that has comparatively lax standards on safety.
This will be a primary line of questioning for the Secretary of State during our hearing next week: How will the State Department work with other nations to hold China accountable for its failure to warn the world of a coming pandemic? Later in the week, I will ask Treasury Secretary Yellen––who has U.S. funding authority for the WHO and other international organizations involved in coronavirus testing and response––what our money supports and where it goes. The families of the over 3.5 million people who died from this pandemic would really like to know.