The Biden administration has suspended funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology following a monthslong review that determined that the Chinese research institute “is not compliant with federal regulations and is not presently responsible,” according to a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS, which conducted the review, also proposed barring the Wuhan Institute from doing business with the federal government going forward, according to the memo, which is dated to Monday and was first reported by Bloomberg.
The lab has not received any federal funding from the US National Institutes of Health since July 2020, according to an HHS spokesperson.
The determination came after the research institute failed to provide the National Institutes of Health with requested documents amid reported safety concerns at the lab.
“This action aims to ensure that WIV does not receive another dollar of federal funding,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement. “The move was undertaken due to WIV’s failure to provide documentation on WIV’s research requested by NIH related to concerns that WIV violated NIH’s biosafety protocols.”
In Monday’s memorandum, HHS’s deputy assistant secretary for acquisition concludes that the Wuhan Institute’s “disregard of the NIH’s requests” and the NIH’s conclusion that the institute’s research likely violated biosafety protocols present a risk that the institute “not only previously violated, but is currently violating, and will continue to violate, protocols of the NIH on biosafety.”
“Therefore, I have determined that the immediate suspension of WIV is necessary to mitigate any potential public health risk,” the official, whose name is redacted, writes in the memo.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology is at the center of a theory that Covid-19 escaped from the lab in late 2019, triggering the global pandemic and nearly 7 million recorded deaths. The virus was first identified in Wuhan.
The US intelligence community has yet to reach a conclusion about where the virus originated.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report last month that stated the US intelligence community could not determine whether researchers at the lab who fell ill in the fall of 2019 were infected with Covid-19, but identified safety and security issues at the lab. Many other experts say evidence suggests that the coronavirus likely emerged naturally and spread to humans in a Wuhan seafood market.
The National Institutes of Health notified EcoHealth Alliance – a US-based organization that received a 2014 grant from NIH that was partly funneled to the Wuhan Institute – in April 2020 that it was reviewing allegations linking the Wuhan Institute to the coronavirus pandemic. And in July of that year, NIH told EcoHealth it had received reports of “biosafety concerns” at the lab.
Collaboration between the organization and Chinese scientists came alongside broader efforts by American scientists to engage with researchers around the world to better understand animal viruses in their regions that could pose a risk to humans.
Researchers at the institute studied bat coronaviruses, but have repeatedly denied that the lab was related to the outbreak of the virus that causes Covid-19.
Instead, they have pointed to their contributions to understanding the virus, which included publishing information in early 2020 identifying what was at that point the closest known relative virus to the one that causes Covid-19.
China has blocked international scientists from freely exploring all hypotheses for how the virus emerged – hampering research that could have potentially shone a light on the outbreak’s origin.
The World Health Organization has repeatedly called for further investigation in the country, including a laboratory audit and studies that could turn up evidence for the natural emergence of the virus.
Beijing has defended its transparency and decried what it sees as US-led “politicizing” of the issue, while trying to point the finger away from itself.
Chinese officials have suggested the virus didn’t emerge within the country’s borders and called on the US to audit its own laboratories, without providing clear reasoning for why this would be necessary.