- Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released a report blaming COVID-19 on a lab leak.
- The theory has been gaining popularity but has not been backed by the US intelligence committee.
- The report theorizes that lab workers were accidentally infected in unsafe working conditions.
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Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released a report on Monday blaming the COVID-19 outbreak on a Chinese lab leak – a theory that has been gaining popularity but has yet to gain the support of the US intelligence community.
While the original report focused mainly on China’s role in downplaying the outbreak, the addendum included details from records released in the past year to draw the conclusion that the virus was accidentally released from a Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) laboratory.
Below are highlights from the report. It should be noted that the staff report is only a hypothesis based on open source records.
- The Committee Minority Staff believe COVID-19 was “accidentally released from a Wuhan Institute of Virology Laboratory sometime prior to September 12, 2019.”
- That date is when the institute’s public database of samples and virus sequences was taken offline in the middle of the night.
- That same day, the WIV announced a $1.2 million security project to hire gatekeepers and guards, install video surveillance, and institute security patrols to handle the “registration and reception of foreign personnel.”
- The report hypothesized that the virus first spread to lab staff due to unsafe conditions, noting that a relatively new hazardous waste treatment system and central air conditioning system underwent renovations in July 2019 and September 2019.
- The report’s authors said these projects “raise questions about how well these systems were functioning prior to the outbreak.”
- An air conditioning system that wasn’t functioning properly “likely resulted in lower than ideal air circulation … enabling particles to remain suspended in the air longer,” the report said.
- The Republicans believe the first lab workers were infected in late August or early September 2019, and spread the virus to central Wuhan. This is the earliest outbreak date given so far. The original report pinpointed the virus emerging in mid-November 2019.
- The 2019 Military World Games, held in Wuhan in October 2019, may have been one of the first “super spreader” events and how the virus spread globally so fast. Many of the athletes at the event reported feeling sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and went back to countries that later became early hotspots for the virus.
The idea that COVID-19 escaped from a lab was one theory raised in the early days of the outbreak, since the WIV conducts research on coronaviruses. But China shut down that line of inquiry early on by blaming the outbreak on a Wuhan wet market.
Republicans including Sen. Tom Cotton and former President Donald Trump often pushed the lab leak theory last year, but it was largely dismissed at the time as a conspiracy theory.
But the theory has regained popularity in recent months after China refused to be fully transparent with a World Health Organization investigation into COVID-19’s origins.
The theory has yet to be confirmed by the US intelligence committee, though it is likely to be addressed by the end of the month. In late May, President Joe Biden gave the US intelligence committee 90 days to conclude a probe on COVID-19’s origins, meaning a report is due by late August.
It was reported at the time that the US intelligence committee was split over two possible theories: That the virus emerged from a lab, or that the virus emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, a source told the Financial Times in May.