The nonprofit at the center of Covid lab leak questions today doubled down on its claim it’s just a ‘coincidence’ the virus emerged in the city it funded risky research.
EcoHealth Alliance, based in New York City, defended its ties to the Wuhan facility after Congress heard damning testimony from top scientists who pointed to mounting evidence the virus was man-made.
EcoHealth – which is headed by the controversial scientist and friend of Dr Anthony Fauci, Dr Peter Daszak – directed millions of US taxpayer dollars to the lab to fund dangerous coronavirus research before the pandemic hit.
In a reactive statement released while the explosive hearing was still taking place, the non-profit said: ‘[The] “strongest pieces of evidence” for a laboratory origin also fail to stand up to scrutiny.’
Nicholas Wade, a former New York Times science editor, pointed to the proximity of the earliest Covid cases in 2019 and the Wuhan Institute of Virology as evidence of a lab leak theory. EcoHealth Alliance, which funded research at the institute, said it was merely a ‘coincidence’.
Dr Peter Daszak (left), president of EcoHealth Alliance, pictured with Dr Anthony Fauci (right)
EcoHealth gave $3.3million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to perform risky research on bat coronaviruses before the pandemic hit.
During this time, Dr Fauci presided over the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) — a part of the NIH.
At the end of 2019, the virus that would eventually spark a global pandemic emerged in Wuhan with early cases linked to a seafood market just eight miles away from the WIV.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic hearing was addressed by former Clinton administration official Dr Jaime Metzl, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chief under Donald Trump, Dr Robert Redfield.
Also featured was a former New York Times science editor Nicholas Wade, among other speakers, tied the research to the pandemic’s origins.
‘Mr. Wade’s other “strongest pieces of evidence” for a laboratory origin also fail to stand up to scrutiny,’ EcoHealth said in a statement.
‘He claims that the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan, the home of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, is “evidence” for laboratory origin, rather than just a coincidence – but he provides no data to demonstrate that his assumption is correct.’
At the hearing Wednesday, Mr Wade noted the proximity of the WIV to the initial outbreak of cases, which occurred just miles away at the Huanan Seafood market.
The WIV is one of Asia’s leading virus research institutes and undergoes heavy research into coronaviruses in particular.
‘The epidemic broke out not in some random Chinese city but right in Wuhan, home of the [WIV],’ he explained.
‘We know that scientists there were genetically engineering coronaviruses under seriously inadequate safety conditions, and we know viruses escape from labs all the time. Clearly, lab leak has to be a strong possibility.’
Mr Wade led the Times’ science section from 1990 to 2012. He has also worked as an editor for the prestigious publications Nature and Science.
‘If the virus had emerged naturally, it should have left many tell-tale signs in the environment,’ Mr Wade told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
‘[It] has yet appeared despite the Chinese government’s keen interest in finding them.
‘As each month passes without such evidence – the natural origins idea has grown steadily weaker, it seems to me. For lab leak, on the other hand, the evidence has been building.’
The author accused Dr Fauci and former director NIH director Dr Francis Collins for covering up the alleged lab-leak.
‘Fauci was probably not too pleased to hear that the virus might have escaped from research that his agency had funded,’ he said.
Dr Fauci reiterated this week that he has kept an open mind about the virus’s origins.
It was revealed this week, though, that he commissioned a study attempting to disprove that notion in February 2020.
But, new evidence shows he may have played a key role in suppressing discussions about the WIV.
EcoHealth Alliance was awarded $8million in Government research grants between 2014 and 2021, which it subcontracted to research facilities.
The WIV was one of eight teams awarded grants at that time.
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where crucial data was wiped by Chinese scientists
An OIG report cites three specific awards from EcoHealth, using NIH funds, that had the potential to be gain-of-function research but did not go through proper clearances. Included is the award to the WIV, which has been at the center of the lab leak theory
An audit by the US Office of Inspector General published in January found the NIH did not adequately asses the research being done with taxpayer funds or properly monitor it.
The report said: ‘Despite identifying potential risks associated with research being performed under the EcoHealth awards, we found that NIH did not effectively monitor or take timely action to address EcoHealth’s compliance with some requirements.
‘Although NIH and EcoHealth had established monitoring procedures, we found deficiencies in complying with those procedures limited NIH and EcoHealth’s ability to effectively monitor federal grant awards and subawards to understand the nature of the research conducted, identify potential problem areas, and take corrective action.’
Investigators say EcoHealth also did not submit proper progress reports on the use of its fund in a timely manner, with information coming in two years late.
It also says the NIH failed to terminate its grant with EcoHealth after the non-profit broke protocols.
Justin Goodman, from the White Coat Waste Project group, said: ‘This audit confirms what we have been documenting since early 2020 when we first exposed NIH’s funding of the Wuhan lab: EcoHealth Alliance shipped tax dollars to Wuhan for dangerous animal experiments that probably caused the pandemic, violated federal laws and policies and wasted tax dollars.
At the hearing Wednesday, Mr Wade noted two other vital pieces of evidence suggesting there was a lab leak, including details of a rejected grant proposal revealed in 2021.
The grant, applied for EcoHealth to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA was submitted in 2018. It was seeking $14million.
The risky research attempted to plant a furin cleavage site into bat coronaviruses. While EcoHealth did not receive funding, Mr Wade says that this implies they were working on these types of bat coronaviruses.
‘Wuhan researchers said in their grant proposal that they would insert this very element into a group of coronaviruses,’ Mr Wade said.
‘And not only that, they would place it on a very specific point of the virus’s genome. Now, the DoD turned the proposal down [because] it was too risky even for them, but the researchers may have done much of the basic work already and found other ways to finance it.’
This research could be described as ‘gain-of-function’ research – dangerous and highly regulated experiments where a person
Third, Mr Wade points out that the same furin cleavage site EcoHealth wanted funding to research was later found to be a part of Covid.
It was also found on the exact part of the virus, the S1S2 juncture, the grant was seeking funding to research.
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where crucial data was wiped by Chinese scientists
The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. New studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbor Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)
This addition to the virus allows it to be more infectious, and scientists have noted that its existence increases Covid’s transmission rate.
‘Why should evolution provide at that very time and at that very place a virus of that exact type described in the defuse proposal.
‘It is surely much easier to believe that the Wuhan researchers did exactly what they proposed and generated [COVID-19] in their lab.’
He continued that Dr Fauci, Dr Collins, and other leading figures in US public health conspired to bury evidence of a lab leak.
‘But if the evidence of a lab leak is so strong, why do so many people still believe the virus came form nature?’ he asks.
‘The reason is, the natural origin camp got its story out first. Always a big help. It very successfully painted lab leak as a conspiracy theory before anyone in public had proposed it.’
He points to scientific journals such as The Lancet which published writings denouncing the theory right at the start of the pandemic.
On March 7, 2020, a letter signed by 27 scientists was published in the prestigious journal, denouncing the lab leak theory as a conspiracy.
Dr Daszak was one of the signees of that letter. He was later condemned for not revealing his conflict of interest when initially signing the letter.
Other speakers at Wednesday’s hearing included Dr Metzl, who worked as part of the State Department during the Bill Clinton Administration.
Mr Wade is a controversial figure in his own right, though.
In 2014, he authored the controversial book ‘A Troublesome Inheritance’, which discusses racial differences and is often cited by white supremacists.
Dr Metzl, a self-identified Democrat, said he favored the lab leak theory because ‘the Chinese government has done everything in its power’ to stonewall investigations.
Dr Redfield, CDC director when the virus first reached the US in 2020, said he had ‘no doubt’ the NIH funded dangerous gain-of-function research in Wuhan.
He called for a moratorium on gain-of-function research until there was a ‘consensus’ on its benefit to society.
Redfield said there was evidence of the virus as early as September 2019 and stated three now-declassified ‘highly irregular’ findings pointing to the lab leak theory – he said researchers deleted sequences, changed command and control of the WIV from civilian to military and allowed a contractor to redo the ventilation in the lab, which Redfield called ‘really telling.