Chinese Communist Party scientists sequenced COVID in a lab in 2019 and uploaded the information to an American database weeks before alerting the rest of the world about the outbreak, newly discovered documents have revealed.
At the time, Chinese authorities were still calling the disease an unknown pneumonia and threatened most health workers into silence.
A China-based researcher had already mapped the COVID-19 sequence two weeks before China’s ruling communist regime revealed such details to the world, raising questions about what other crucial pandemic information Beijing may have buried from view.
Documents released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee reveal that Ren Lili, a current Beijing-based recipient of U.S. federal grants through the New York nonprofit research group EcoHealth Alliance, uploaded COVID-19 sequencing data to a U.S. government genetic database on Dec. 28, 2019.
At the time, Chinese authorities were still calling the disease an unknown pneumonia and ordered health workers not to spread any information around it with threat of penalty.
It wasn’t until Jan. 12—more than two weeks later—that Beijing shared genetic makeup with the World Health Organization. It took two more days before the regime acknowledged the disease could spread from human to human.
National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) GenBank repository, which received the data from Ms. Ren, notified the Chinese virologist that the submission was “incomplete” and “lacked the necessary information required for publication,” the Department of Health and Human Services told the House committee in a letter.
Following a quality review process that screens for technical details, the GenBank asked for additional information from Ms. Ren, who works at the state-run Institute of Pathogen Biology, but never heard back, leading to the sequence’s removal from the database on Jan. 16, 2020. During this period, GenBank received a near-identical COVID-19 genetic sequence from a different submitter, which it published on Jan. 12, 2020, according to the letter that the Energy and Commerce Committee released on Jan. 17 this year.
In contrast with the Chinese regime’s insistence that it has been transparent on the COVID origin issue, the newly unearthed information suggested otherwise, Committee Republicans said.
“This significant discovery further underscores why we cannot trust any of the so-called ‘facts’ or data provided by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and calls into serious question the legitimacy of any scientific theories based on such information,” committee chair McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Subcommittee on Health chair Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations chair Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), said in a joint statement.
“The American people deserve to know the truth about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, and our investigation has uncovered numerous causes for concern, including how taxpayers’ dollars are spent, how our government’s public health agencies operate, and the need for more oversight into research grants to foreign scientists.”
Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, praised the House committee for the findings and criticized the Biden administration for “lack of interest in understanding the basic facts of how this pandemic originated.” The declassified COVID origin report, compelled by a 2023 law, “obscured more than it illuminated,” and the Energy and Commerce Committee only received information after threatening subpoena, he noted.
The virus genome data that Ms. Ren submitted, the earliest kind known by far, appears to have come from a 65-year-old Chinese deliveryman, who was hospitalized with high fever and coughing on Dec. 18 and became critically ill four days later.
A Chinese microblogger said their private firm in the southern Chinese city Guangzhou had analyzed the virus samples on Dec. 26, 2019. Deeming the findings too sensitive, their company decided to withhold making them public and shared the findings with Ms. Ren’s institute the following day after they pieced a “nearly complete genetic sequence” together.
“In terms of how I see this whole incident, most of all is disappointment, pain, and anger. We had been so timely on this, how come it’s still not under control?” the person wrote on Chinese social media. “It has less to do with science or technology, and more with policy and media.” A Chinese media report citing the incident has been deleted.
Ms. Ren has led the discovery of several emerging viruses in China, including the human rhinovirus A21 subvariant, and, like other prominent Chinese virology researchers, has come out in defense of the CCP on the virus origin issue.
In correspondence from September 2021, now published in the medical journal Lancet, Ms. Ren and over a dozen other Chinese medical researchers dismissed the chances that the virus may have leaked from Wuhan Institute of Virology—another EcoHealth subgrantee that had, for years, been working on dangerous bat coronaviruses—demanding instead that the origins of COVID-19 would best be “investigated worldwide.”
Chinese media have lauded her role in isolating and synthesizing the virus genome, citing approving statements from the World Health Organization that lent her credence. Ms. Ren’s work was recognized by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences—the highest state-level Chinese medical research institute that her research center is affiliated with—as one of 40 “major national medical developments of the year.”
Scrutiny has increased over the lab leak possibility.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH until late 2021, said in recent closed-door congressional testimony that the theory that COVID-19 could have come out of a lab in Wuhan “is not a conspiracy theory.”
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’s former head Dr. Anthony Fauci made a similar statement when questioned days earlier by the same House panel investigating the COVID pandemic.