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Chinese lab probed in COVID-19 outbreak to receive US funds until 2024: report

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The Wuhan Institute of Virology — the Chinese lab being investigated for possibly leaking the coronavirus — has been authorized to receive US taxpayer funding for animal research through 2024, according to a report.

Prior to the outbreak, researchers at the lab had been studying bat-based coronaviruses in a project partially supported by $600,000 in US government funding routed from the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, the Daily Caller reported.

EcoHealth president Peter Daszak — the only American member of a World Health Organization delegation that recently visited China to probe the origins of the pandemic — said the US should accept WHO’s preliminary conclusion that it was highly unlikely the deadly bug could have leaked from the lab, according to the outlet.

Speaking to reporters last week, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US needed “full transparency and access” from both China and the WHO in order to accept the investigation’s findings and before any conclusions could be reached.

The NGO’s work studying bat-based coronaviruses in China was funded by a $3.7 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Feb. 3, 2021.
Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization on Feb. 3, 2021.
REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The National Institutes of Health, which told the Daily Caller News Foundation about the funding through 2024, terminated the grant in April 2020 amid criticism over EcoHealth Alliance’s relationship with the lab, according to the report.

The NIH said in a letter that EcoHealth’s work in China did not align with “program goals and agency priorities.”

In July, the NIH told EcoHealth that it would restore the grant if it met certain conditions, including the arrangement for an independent team to investigate the Wuhan lab to determine if it had possessed the virus prior to the first known cases in December 2019.

Daszak told NPR that the conditions were “preposterous,” according to the Daily Caller.

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

But the lab still has an active Foreign Assurance on file with the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, which allows it to continue receiving US funding to engage in animal research, the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare told the outlet.

The lab’s Foreign Assurance was approved Jan. 9, 2019, and is set to expire on Jan. 31, 2024, an NIH rep told the Daily Caller News Foundation — but did not confirm whether the lab is currently receiving direct or indirect taxpayer funding for research activities involving animals.

Anthony Bellotti, president of the nonpartisan watchdog group White Coat Waste Project, told DCNF that EcoHealth should be completely stripped of funding for backing “reckless gain-of-function animal experiments that may have led to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We’re urging Congress and the White House to defund EcoHealth now and secure independent investigations into whether their treacherous gain-of-function animal experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology led to the COVID outbreak,” Bellotti said.

Virologists working in the P4 lab of Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.
Virologists working in the P4 lab of Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017.
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Earlier this month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted that scientists haven’t ruled out the possibility that COVID-19 was leaked from the lab despite previous declarations from a WHO-led team saying it was “extremely unlikely.”

“Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded,” Tedros said at a press conference in Geneva.

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