US ceases funding to Wuhan institute amid Covid probe

Wuhan lab faces intense scrutiny for research into bat coronaviruses and ‘security lapses’

Arpan Rai
Wednesday 19 July 2023 09:13 BST
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This general view shows the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province
This general view shows the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province (AFP via Getty Images)

The US has officially announced it is terminating funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology over unanswered safety and security questions in the institution embroiled in the Covid-19 lab leak theory.

The news of the termination has come as the US and China are looking to improve their bilateral working ties in the wake of economic repercussions from the global pandemic that killed more than seven million people. The US has launched efforts to improve ties by sending a number of its officials to Beijing in recent times.

The Chinese facility was notified of the suspension by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Monday, reported Bloomberg citing a memo.

According to a review by the HHS, the facility in China’s Wuhan, where Covid is said to have first emerged, has violated biosafety protocols and is not complying with US regulations.

With the funding coming to a sudden halt, the global research institute will not be receiving any financial assistance from the US, an HHS spokesperson told Bloomberg in an emailed statement.

The virology facility has received more than $1.4m (£1m) in awards and subgrants, but that had stopped after July 2020.

The lab, located in the city where the Covid pandemic is believed to have begun, has faced intense scrutiny due to its reported security lapses and over research that has been carried out on bat coronaviruses.

Intelligence officials of the Joe Biden administration have been pushed by lawmakers to release more material about the origins of Covid. But they have repeatedly argued that China’s official obstruction of independent reviews has perhaps made it impossible to determine how the pandemic began.

Last month, the US officials released an intelligence report and rejected several points raised by those who argued that Covid leaked from a Chinese lab, instead reiterating that American spy agencies remain divided over how the pandemic began.

The report said the intelligence community has not gone further in determining Covid’s origins.

Four agencies still believe the virus was transferred from animals to humans and two agencies – the Energy Department and the FBI – believe the virus leaked from a lab. The CIA and another agency have not made an assessment.

The report was issued at the behest of Congress, which passed a bill in March giving US intelligence 90 days to declassify intelligence related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Apart from this, reports of several lab researchers falling ill with respiratory symptoms in fall 2019 have also remained inconclusive, the report argued, saying some of their symptoms weren’t consistent with Covid.

US intelligence, the report said, “continues to assess that this information neither supports nor refutes either hypothesis of the pandemic’s origins because the researchers’ symptoms could have been caused by a number of diseases and some of the symptoms were not consistent with Covid-19”.

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