Biden administration halts Wuhan Institute of Virology’s access to federal funding over Covid stonewalling: Report

The Biden administration has suspended the Wuhan Institute of Virology's access to federal funding due to its failure to provide safety and security documents. The Department of Health and Human Services has also indicated that it is seeking to permanently cut off funding to the lab.

Edited By Karishma Pranav Bhavsar
First Published19 Jul 2023
File photo: The Department of Health and Human Services notified the Wuhan Institute on Monday of the suspension, and also told the lab it’s seeking to cut it off permanently, according to the memo. (Image: Reuters)
File photo: The Department of Health and Human Services notified the Wuhan Institute on Monday of the suspension, and also told the lab it’s seeking to cut it off permanently, according to the memo. (Image: Reuters)

The Biden administration has halted the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s access to federal funding after the lab failed to provide documents about safety and security measures, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News. 

The Department of Health and Human Services notified the Wuhan Institute on Monday of the suspension, and also told the lab it’s seeking to cut it off permanently, according to the memo. HHS found, after a review that began last September, that the facility, based in Wuhan, China, isn’t compliant with federal regulations.

The action guarantees that the institute won’t receive any more federal funding, an HHS spokesperson said in an emailed statement. The lab hasn’t received money from the National Institutes of Health since July 2020.

Penalizing the lab is the most drastic action the US has taken so far over its failure to share documentation on biosafety practices amid ongoing investigations into Covid-19’s origins. The institute has became become a flashpoint in discussions of how the pandemic, which has killed some 7 million people, started, with some, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, suspecting it could have originated at the facility.

Though the US hasn’t found any conclusive evidence that the virus emerged either through animal-to-human transmission or a lab accident, it has identified significant breaches in safety and security protocol at the Wuhan Institute. The US has also accused China and the lab of stonewalling investigations into those shortcomings.  

2014 Grant

In 2014, the NIH awarded a grant to EcoHealth Alliance, a US-based organization focused on preventing infectious diseases, for “understanding the risk of bat coronavirus emergence.” The Wuhan Institute of Virology received a subaward of that grant.

EcoHealth Alliance also funneled US Agency for International Development funds to the lab.

Earlier this year, HHS’s Office of Inspector General conducted an audit that determined that the NIH and EcoHealth Alliance didn’t effectively monitor awards and subawards, limiting their ability to understand the nature of research conducted and identify problem areas.

The institute’s leadership hasn’t yet responded to the US government since its decision to make the lab ineligible for future federal awards, including new contracts, grants and other transactions, the HHS spokesperson said. 

The lab won’t be able to conduct any business with US as an agent or representative of others, and its affiliation with any organization that does business with the federal government will also be carefully examined.

The Wuhan lab can, however, contest the suspension and proposed debarment. An HHS debarment is a relatively rare event: The agency debarred 15 entities in 2020, according to its most recent public report on the actions.

The HHS reached its decision to suspend and potentially debar the lab independently of the US intelligence community, which has long been investigating the novel coronavirus’s emergence in Wuhan in late 2019. 

Last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report that identified safety and security issues at the institute that could have increased the risk of accidental exposure to viruses. Still, the intelligence community said it’s not aware of a specific biosafety incident that may have spurred the pandemic. 

That report came months after President Joe Biden signed a bill into law requiring declassification of intelligence related to the pandemic’s potential links to the lab.

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HomeNewsworldBiden administration halts Wuhan Institute of Virology’s access to federal funding over Covid stonewalling: Report

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