Eleanor Bartow, DCNF
Months after its initial requests, a congressional committee investigating COVID-19’s origins is still awaiting answers from a U.S.-funded group that worked with a Wuhan lab considered a possible origin of COVID-19.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak answer questions about his group’s work with the Wuhan lab in a letter on April 16, and have still received no response, a committee aide confirmed Thursday.
Earlier this week, Daszak was singled out by committee ranking member Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington at a hearing on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have asked Daszak to provide information we know he has that sheds light on the origins of this pandemic. But he refuses to cooperate,” she said. “If you have nothing to hide, why won’t you help us?”
In February 2020, Daszak had organized a letter in The Lancet condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
The committee has asked for EcoHealth Alliance’s knowledge of a virus database at the Wuhan lab for which external access ended in September 2019, among 34 other questions.
Republicans on the committee have more recently requested information for its investigation from the State Department, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Department of Homeland Security, the Government Accountability Office, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“While we are making strides behind-the-scenes, I want to be very clear: we’re not satisfied with the level of cooperation,” Rodgers said.
Our experts’ open letter calling for a comprehensive investigation into pandemic origins in China, with the participation of the Chinese government if possible but without it if necessary, is just out. Retweet if you agree. https://t.co/3IwPZrouJ1
— Jamie Metzl (@JamieMetzl) June 28, 2021
The committee asked the National Institutes of Health for further related information on grants to EcoHealth Alliance in March and June letters. NIH Director Francis Collins has said it would be better to address all the questions in a briefing.
“Much of the information they’re asking for, we don’t have the answers to. Some of it is pretty sensitive, not quite classified, but getting close to that,” Collins told the Hugh Hewitt show in June.
“Did the NIH ensure that assessments were conducted to find out if the Wuhan lab had appropriate safety protocols in place to prevent a lab leak?” Rodgers asked. “Did the NIH adequately account for any national security risks that could arise from funding research through EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology?”
In its most recent letter, to USAID, the committee asked for more information on the PREDICT program, which aims to forecast pandemics. PREDICT partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Virology from 2009 to 2019, according to the letter.
The program detected about 1,200 viruses that could spread from wild animals to humans, with more than 160 of them being novel coronaviruses, much like SARS-CoV-2, the Los Angeles Times reported in April 2020.
In May, President Biden asked U.S. intelligence agencies to redouble their efforts in finding the origins of COVID-19 and to report back in late August.
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