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In October 2017 – when most Americans never heard the word coronavirus and SARS was in fact a distant memory – the US government was planning joint research projects with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. .
That’s when Gray Handley, associate director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, relayed the information to colleagues who said, “China’s interest in the global project on the virome presents an opportunity for global health cooperation.”
“The U.S.-China collaboration on the Global Virome Project is an opportunity to lead scientific innovation, collaborate with China, and potentially contribute to scientific breakthroughs,” the Global Virome Project summary said in the email. which was among 92 pages obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit with the National Institutes of Health.
The documents show that the cooperation would include efforts in the years to come, such as US government scientists providing training to scientists at the Wuhan lab in 2018. A key selling point was that such a partnership would mean “preparing to a pandemic” and “would allow rapid detection” of viruses to prevent epidemics. But in January 2020, US health officials noted that the Chinese government was not open about an outbreak, hesitant to say whether it was linked to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
The 2019 novel coronavirus, better known as COVID-19, is also known as SARS-CoV-2.
This ambitious cooperation plan mentioned in October 2017 between two world powers would, among other things, ensure preparation for a future pandemic, according to the documents.
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“While US-based NGOs and academics are likely to provide some leadership for the GVP, it will be important for the USG [U.S. government] to remain meaningfully engaged with the GVP, to ensure that US interests are properly reflected in this effort, which will facilitate the development of countermeasures against future threats (pandemic preparedness), and enable rapid detection of viral threats and will increase the ability to manage them,” says the Global Virome Project summary.
The State Department was also aware.
On February 23, 2018, another email exchange between officials at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and National Institutes of Health headquarters referenced a Chinese media account of research at the Institute of Virology in Beijing. Wuhan on how bats “host highly pathogenic viruses like Ebola, Marburg, and SARS coronavirus but do not show clinical signs of disease.”
An April 18, 2018 email from a name-redacted official with the subject line “Wuhan Institute of Virology visit cable” refers to a cable that reads: “The Chinese Institute of virus welcomes greater U.S. cooperation on global health security.” The cable later adds, “The Chinese Wuhan Institute of Virology, a world leader in virus research, is a key partner of the United States in protecting global health security.”
This post notes that American scientists were training Wuhan scientists in 2018.
“[E]Experts from the NIH-supported P4 lab at the University of Texas Medical Branch trained Wuhan lab technicians in lab management and maintenance, institute officials said,” the cable continues. . SARS research by the Wuhan Institute of Virology [redacted].”
The same cable further notes that a redacted word “with the EcoHealth Alliance (a New York-based NGO that works with the University of California Davis to manage the [redacted]plans to travel to Wuhan to meet Shi [Zhengli].”
EcoHealth Alliance is a nonprofit organization that received approximately $600,000 in US dollars. The organization spent money studying the coronavirus in bats at the Wuhan lab between 2014 and 2019. The NIH sent a letter to EcoHealth Alliance in July 2020, asking about its relationship with the Institute. from Wuhan virology.
Shi Zhengli is described elsewhere in documents obtained by Judicial Watch as a scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and China’s national coordinator for the PREDICT project, which was a research project funded by the United States Agency for Development. Department of State International to combat the disease. This project has been described as a precursor to the Global Virome Project.
In December 2019, the first known cases of COVID-19 appeared in China and began to spread. On January 8, 2020, Dr. Ping Chen, a senior NIAID official working in China, sent an email to senior NIAID colleagues, including Handley, with the subject: “PRC response to pneumonia cases shows increased transparency from past outbreaks, but gaps in epidemiology data remain.”
“He ruled out SARS, MERS and the flu. [Redacted] confirmed to be a viral infection,” Chen told colleagues.
“While PRC officials have released timely and open background information on the outbreak, the lack of epidemiological data…characteristics of infected people and other basic epidemiological information – hampers better risk assessment and better response from public health officials,” Chen’s email read. “Authorities have also not released information on how they define a ‘case’. Given these gaps in detailed information to date and the absence of a final confirmed pathogen, the health risk in the United States and globally is difficult to assess at this time.”
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Neither NIAID nor NIH responded with a comment for this story, although NIH acknowledged receipt of the investigation.
The State Department referred to an October report from the intelligence community.
The Intelligence Community assessment states: “An IC element assesses with moderate confidence that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 was most likely the result of a laboratory-associated incident, likely involving experimentation, animal handling or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
But, the report says, “Most agencies also rate with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 was probably not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was insufficient evidence to make an assessment one way or the other”.
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“China’s cooperation would most likely be required to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19,” the report said. “Beijing, however, continues to obstruct the global investigation, resist information sharing, and blame other countries, including the United States.”