An expert panel of witnesses told Republicans on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis they believe COVID-19 came from a lab in Wuhan, China.
“This is a worldwide pandemic in which millions of people have died. It may have been the result of a lab-leak — and we think highly likely it is,” Adm. Brett Giroir told the subcommittee Tuesday. All four of the experts questioned by the subcommittee answered “yes” when asked if they believe that COVID-19 started in a lab in Wuhan.
Giroir was joined by Dr. David Asher, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, Dr. Richard Muller, emeritus professor of physics at the University of California Berkeley and Dr. Steven Quay, founder of Atossa Theraputics. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci were both invited to the hearing but declined to attend.
The three-hour hearing traversed a range of topics surrounding a possible lab-leak of COVID-19. The experts argued that a number of biological traits found in COVID-19 suggest an unnatural origin of some kind.
“A natural zoonosis has two processes,” Quay said. “It jumps into humans but it can’t do very well… but then it’s building up its repertoire, it’s learning how to infect humans. And then finally, and this takes a year to 18 months. So here, it was human-to-human from the get-go.”
“That simply indicated gain-of-function,” Muller added. “The fact that it was human from the get-go implies gain-of-function. There’s no way that we know that could happen [naturally].”
The panel had some disagreement over the merit of gain-of-function research, but agreed that the National Institutes of Health needs to do a better job monitoring grants it gives for such research.
Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan asked Giroir about the functionality of the P3CO oversight board: “My understanding is it’s an oversight board that’s there to decide if you’re going to fund any gain-of-function research. Is that right?”
“That’s what the intent is,” Giroir said. “But how it works, how research gets taken into that, it’s unbelievable to me that coronavirus work wouldn’t even get into the process.” (RELATED: US Grant To Wuhan Lab To Enhance Bat-Based Coronaviruses Was Never Scrutinized By HHS Review Board, NIH Says)
“If you look at the abstract from the latest grant that was done to EcoHealth, it talks about using protein sequence data, infectious clone technology, in vitro and in vivo infection experiments. This is all gain-of-function. How this could not get into the P3 process is unbelievable.”
While the discussion centered around an accidental lab-leak, the possibility that it was related to a bioweapons program was also highlighted briefly. “They were working on a program related to synthetic biology and gain-of-function using serial passage revolutionary technology approaches quite publicly,” said Asher, a former longtime State Department official. “Of course they were working on dual-use research of concerns, it’s called DURC. And the DURC, in this case, if it gets out of a lab and it’s not contained promptly, could result in a weapons-like release.”
“Whether they deliberately did it, I have very little sense they did. But were they deliberately working on developing the capability to use advanced pathogen genetic capabilities for war in a way that no one has seen ever employed? Yeah they were. Of course they are,” he added.
The experts also agreed that more scientists did not speak out about a potential lab-leak because they feared being ostracized by their peers and the public. (RELATED: American Scientists Helped Cover Up A Lab-Leak For Communists Before — In The Soviet Union)
“Physicians who were on the task force, or who were around the task force, were under tremendous pressure from their scientific colleagues to not even show up with the president on stage,” said Giroir. “There was such bias against the president, that even thinking that you were helping the president, you were excommunicated from the scientific community.”