GOP Senators Seek China Sanctions for Blocking Probes Into COVID Origins

Republican lawmakers in the Senate have introduced a bill to sanction Chinese officials who continue to obstruct independent investigations into the origins of the coronavirus. It would also end all federal funding for joint projects with the country's national academy.

The Coronavirus Origin Validation, Investigation, and Determination (COVID) Act of 2022 submitted by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and co-sponsored by more than a dozen GOP colleagues was also put to Congress last year.

It gives Beijing 90 days after enactment to grant a team of international scientists unfettered access to laboratories in the first COVID-19 epicenter in central China, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

In February 2021, more than a year after the pandemic began, a team of WHO and Chinese experts concluded that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, was unlikely to have emerged as a result of a laboratory accident.

The findings pointed to zoonotic origins, but there, too, the joint investigation was inconclusive.

Five months later, the United Nations health body launched the second phase of its origin-tracing probe. WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the so-called "lab leak" hypothesis had been ruled out too soon; he requested another look at the environment in and around Wuhan as well as facilities such as the WIV.

China rejected the proposal in full, describing the plans as "impossible."

The United States has vowed to continue pressing Beijing for a transparent investigation, but Rubio's COVID Act could force the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership to the table, he said in a statement on Tuesday.

"We know the virus originated in China, however, the CCP's attempts to obfuscate the truth has led to countless deaths and needless suffering worldwide. It is clear that Beijing will only respond to concerted pressure from the United States and the international community," he said.

In an op-ed in the Washington Examiner, Rubio wrote the party's "secrecy and blatant obstructionism" from the earliest days of the pandemic meant the origin of the virus was still a mystery a full two years later—and after the loss of more than 840,000 American lives and millions more worldwide.

"This is simply unacceptable. The world deserves to know the truth about COVID-19, and the U.S. government should punish those who are keeping the facts in the dark," he said.

Senators Seek Sanctions Over China's COVID Obstructions
A team of World Health Organization researchers investigating the origins of COVID-19 arrive at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, Hubei, China, on February 3, 2021. On January 11, 2022, a group of Republican senators introduced legislation that would sanction Chinese officials found to have been obstructing international efforts to trace COVID-19’s origins. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

Under the legislation, which doesn't yet have any Democrat co-sponsors, Chinese officials found to have concealed the state of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, and who continue to obstruct international attempts to trace the virus's origins, would be hit with economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Of far more consequence, however, is a clause that would cease all federal funding for joint research carried out by U.S.-based scientists and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), China's all-encompassing natural sciences academy, under which the WIV operates.

The COVID Act would cut grants "across all academic fields" where the CAS is involved—a move that would have implications beyond only biological research. While it would ensure an end to anything resembling so-called "gain-of-function" studies—the genetic manipulation of organisms to enhance their functions—it would doubtless impact many other research sectors within the scientific community.

Beijing has dismissed the possibility of COVID-19 having escaped from one of its biosafety facilities, citing the WHO-China study conducted early last year. It has lashed out at the U.S. and others for "politicizing" origin-tracing efforts.

Last month, former President Donald Trump said China owed the world some $60 trillion in damages for causing the pandemic, which he believes began as a result of a leak at the WIV.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by saying Trump was "first to blame" for the pandemic misery in the U.S