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Lawmakers ask for details from American scientists who studied bat coronaviruses in Wuhan before the pandemic

Eleanor Bartow, DCNF

A U.S.-based group that conducts bat coronavirus research in China was asked Friday to provide a House committee with information on virus samples and safety protocols at a Wuhan lab.

The group, the EcoHealth Alliance, has received funding from the National Institutes of Health for coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which is central in speculation that COVID-19 may have leaked accidentally from a lab.

EcoHealth Alliance “has an extensive history with research into bat coronaviruses in China, some of which are presumed progenitors of SARS CoV-2,” according to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce letter.

The letter is signed by ranking member Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state and the Republican leaders of two subcommittees.

The committee requested information EcoHealth Alliance has on WIV’s virus samples and sequences, including any from a related database that was taken offline in 2019.

“The database is administered by the WIV’s researcher Dr. Shi Zhengli, with whom you and your team have had professional and financial ties since at least 2003,” the letter said. “The database is estimated to contain 500 coronaviruses identified by EcoHealth Alliance, and at least 100 unpublished sequences of bat beta coronaviruses that are relevant to the investigation of the SARS-CoV-2 origin.”

A World Health Organization-led team released a report in March on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, but the team was denied access to important data.

As a condition of its NIH funding, EcoHealth Alliance is responsible for ensuring the WIV met the agency’s grant requirements, according to the House Republicans’ letter. EcoHealth is asked for any “direct or indirect knowledge when safety protocols were not followed” at the lab.

The letter also asks what EcoHealth Alliance knows about “a Chinese national security review team finding in 2019 that the WIV did not meet national standards in five categories and when or if those standards were met before 2020.”

It requests copies of the group’s NIH grant applications that were reviewed for their risk of creating a pandemic.

The letter requests the information by May 17 and a briefing to the committee’s minority staff.

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