Earlier this month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee Minority Staff released an 84-page report investigating the origins of COVID-19. One of its main claims: that the “[p]reponderance of evidence suggests SARS-CoV-2 was accidentally released from a Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory sometime prior to September 12, 2019,” rather than a wet market in Wuhan. To support this claim, the report assembles a comprehensive timeline, including the following events:
First, from 2018 through 2019, several scientists had been working at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) infecting transgenic mice and civets expressing human immune systems with unpublished novel and genetically modified coronaviruses.
There were numerous safety concerns about the WIV, suggesting a lab leak of one or more of those coronaviruses is very plausible. In July 2019, the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab (WNBL), one of the WIV’s facilities, underwent a $1.5 million “Hazardous Waste Treatment System Renovation Project.” The report noticed that this seemed out of the ordinary, as the WNBL had been operational for less than two years at that point. In September 2019, Yuan Zhiming, the Director of the WNBL’s Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) lab published an article in the Journal of Biosafety and Biosecurity that was highly critical of the WNBL. In the article, and “with a surprising level of transparency,” Yuan expressed multiple concerns with the WNBL including enforcement of regulations, biosafety, and inefficient resources.
Then, at 12:00 AM of September 12, 2019, the Wuhan University issued a statement announcing lab inspections. Between 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM, the WIV’s viral sequence and sample database vanished from the internet. According to the Report:
The database contained more than 22,000 entries consisting of sample and pathogen data collected from bats and mice. The database contained key information about each sample, including what type of animal it was collected from, where it was collected, whether the virus was successfully isolated, the type of virus collected, and its similarity to other known viruses.
To date, there has been no consistent answer provided as to why the database was removed or when or if it will be put back online.
The timing and sequence of the lab inspection and disappearance of the database, of course, suggest some sort of cover-up. Questioned later about the whereabouts of the database, Dr. Shi Zheng-li, senior scientist at the WIV, offered conflicting accounts. These inconsistencies also suggest some sort of dishonesty and cover-up.
In the evening of September 12, 2019, at 7:09 PM, the WIV published a procurement announcement for “security services” at the WNBL, to include gatekeepers, guards, video surveillance, security patrols, and people to handle the “registration and reception of foreign personnel” at the WNBL. The budget provided was in excess of $1.2 million. This layer of security further suggests concealment of whatever was happening in the lab.
In September through October 2019, there was a spike in activity at the WIV, as the parking lot volume at hospitals surrounding the WIV headquarters and the shuttle stop for the WNBL steadily increased until they reached the highest levels in two and a half years, indicating that people were becoming disproportionately ill. This was determined through satellite imagery analysis by researchers from Boston University School of Public Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. At the same time, online searches for COVID-19 related symptoms “cough” and “diarrhea” in Wuhan spiked. This all occurred before the first reported cases of COVID-19.
In October 2019, foreign athletes attended the Military World Games in Wuhan. Following their competitions, these athletes became sick with COVID-19 like symptoms, both in China and when they returned to their countries. When the foreign athletes were in Wuhan, one from Luxembourg claimed it was a “ghost town” while another said, “[t]his was a city of 15 million people that was in lockdown.” Both quotes suggest that the CCP had forced its citizens into a lockdown and thereby knew about COVID-19 at least by October 2019. Because at least four countries that sent athletes to compete in Wuhan had confirmed SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 cases in November and December 2019, the report suggests that the Military World Games may have been one of the first “super-spreader” events in the pandemic.
And finally, in early 2020 or possibly late 2019, PLA Major General Chen Wei arrived in Wuhan and took over the WNBL’s BSL-4 lab. Wei is an expert in biology and chemical weapons defenses. Until late 2019, Dr. Yuan Zhiming, a local CCP leader, managed the BSL-4 lab. The timing of General Chen’s takeover suggests that the CCP was concerned about the lab, and General Chen’s high profile suggests that the CCP was in fact very concerned about the lab. General Chen’s posting also suggests that the CCP knew about COVID-19 earlier and that the outbreak began earlier than was publically reported.
With this evidence and more, the report concluded a preponderance of evidence points to the fact that SARS-CoV-2 was accidentally released from a WIV laboratory sometime prior to September 12, 2019. The WIV had been working on novel and genetically modified coronaviruses in at least 2018 through 2019. Through poor safety protocols the WIV, such a virus could have then been accidentally released out of the lab, through Wuhan and then internationally through the Military World Games. The report concluded that it is incumbent on the United States and its allies to hold the CCP accountable to make sure that such a pandemic can never happen again.