Chinese Lab Developed COVID-19 Virus, Senate Report Claims

Chinese Lab Developed COVID-19 Virus, Senate Report Claims
An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei Province on April 17, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

WASHINGTON—The COVID-19 virus originated in a Chinese laboratory and was leaked unintentionally, a new U.S. Senate report concludes.

The virus, SARS-CoV-2, leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which tests bat coronaviruses, twice in 2019, researchers conducting the report say.

“The preponderance of information supports the plausibility of an unintentional research-related incident that likely resulted from failures of biosafety containment during SARS-CoV-2 vaccine-related research,” the 301-page report, released on April 17, states.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Health Committee, released the report, which was produced by a team that included Dr. Robert Kadlec, a longtime former government health official who played a key role in developing the COVID-19 vaccines, and staffers on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, where Marshall chairs the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security. The final report updates an interim report released in the fall of 2022.

Researchers started with two hypotheses, Marshall told reporters in a briefing. One was that the virus started in animals before spilling over to humans, known as a natural origin. The other was a leak from the Wuhan lab, located in the same city where the first COVID-19 cases were detected in late 2019.

“They exhausted every piece of evidence that they could find, every resource witness that they could talk to, to come up with conclusions,” Marshall said.

Kadlec’s team of consultants spent approximately 18 months probing the COVID-19 origins and concluded that the available evidence supports a lab leak.

More specifically, there was likely an aerosol leak that caused an infection of lab personnel or the virus may have been released to the outside environment due to biocontainment failures. One theory revolves around cleaning agents causing corrosion of welded seams in the lab, a possibility mentioned in multiple 2019 documents on upgrading the lab.

“Patents addressed biocontainment faults with animal transfer cabinets, biosafety autoclaves, leaky airtight doors, and excessive corrosive disinfectants affecting stainless steel laboratory equipment and biocontainment structures,” the report states.

Both domestic and foreign bodies have for years raised concerns about biosafety at the WIV. A 2018 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, (pdf) reported that the then-newly opened biosafety level four lab at the facility had a “serious shortage” of trained technicians to safely operate the lab.
Researchers at the lab, before the pandemic, reported experimenting on mice, bats, and palm civets to find coronaviruses that were more capable of infecting humans, and sometimes experimented at sub-biosafety level four conditions. A more recent summary showed scientists conducted experiments that increased the function of a bat coronavirus. WIV’s refusal to reveal the full results of their experiments resulted in U.S. officials ending a subgrant after the pandemic started.
Research-related lab biosafety issues can unfold in a number of ways, while most infections acquired in laboratories due to lapses are never conclusively determined, researchers have said previously.

Chinese reports, communications, and notices were offered as support for the lab leak theory, including an attempt in November 2019 to procure an air incinerator at the lab. That suggested “some concern about the risk of an infectious aerosol escape,” researchers say in the new report. They also noted that WIV staffers underwent a remedial biosafety training course that same month.

Characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 suggest the virus was manmade, including the presence of a furin cleavage site at the same location that was proposed in a grant proposal by EcoHealth Alliance, the report concludes. EcoHealth funneled U.S. taxpayer money to scientists in Wuhan.

Sen. Roger Marshall gives a briefing in Washington on April 16, 2023. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)
Sen. Roger Marshall gives a briefing in Washington on April 16, 2023. (Zachary Stieber/The Epoch Times)

Two Leaks

More than one lab leak may have occurred, according to the report.

Data from infections in Wuhan early in the pandemic indicate that there were different epidemiological patterns there, Chinese researchers have said. The early strains of COVID-19 had differences, including different numbers of mutations, “suggesting that two lineages of the same virus may have emerged simultaneously and progressed on different paths or sequentially separated by some period of time,” the report says.

According to declassified U.S. government intelligence reports and Chinese news stories, the first cases in foreign visitors to China were recorded in November 2019. Modeling has indicated the outbreak began in October or November 2019. Chinese officials took actions even earlier in 2019, such as holding a drill said to simulate the discovery of an airline passenger with coronavirus, on Sept. 18, 2019, and shortly after beginning to stockpile tests.

Kadlec and the other U.S. researchers say one leak may have happened before September 2019, spurring the actions. Then, a second leak took place in late 2019, they posit, just before Chinese researchers likely started developing a COVID-19 vaccine that was tested starting in February 2020.

Marshall acknowledged that there could have just been one leak but said other evidence supports the two leak theory, including how genomic data from WIV was taken offline in the fall of 2019, around the same time foreign athletes who went to Wuhan for military Olympics became ill with symptoms that are caused by COVID-19.

The senator lamented the difficulty the team encountered obtaining evidence from U.S. government agencies such as the State Department.

“Another likely lab leak seems to be the most sensible explanation in this retrospective review,” he said. “There’s key data points that are being held back that could help us prove that, but we can’t get that data.”

Chinese officials, meanwhile, have continued their pattern of censoring key data.

“Many of the evidentiary gaps in the world’s understanding of the emergence of SARS are the result of PRC censorship and the deliberate destruction and withholding of evidence,” the researchers said in the report, using the acronym for the regime’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.


The report says the available evidence points to a lab leak rather than an intentional incident.

While the Wuhan laboratory regularly had contact with top Chinese Communist Party officials, there are no signs that the virus was released intentionally, Marshall contends.

“I think that there’s some people out there that are assuming the worst, and there’s just no evidence to support that it was intentional,” Marshall said. “All the evidence says it’s unintentional.”

“Was there a cover-up? Yes,” he added.

Marshall said he assumes the testing of infectious viruses done at the lab was being done so China could create its own vaccines against the viruses.

Natural Origin

None of the available evidence supports the natural origin theory, the report concludes. That includes no evidence of any animals being infected with SARS-CoV-2 before the first human cases.
The natural origin theory is still popular with some virologists, including many who convened early in the pandemic to produce the papers that described the lab theory as “improbable” and a “conspiracy theory.”
An early version of one of the papers did note that research involving bat coronaviruses had been happening in biosafety level two labs for years and “we must therefore consider the possibility of a deliberate or inadvertent release of SARS-CoV-2.”
Some of the scientists reported in a preprint study that newly released Chinese data showed some animals were present at a Wuhan wet market in 2019, including species that have since tested positive elsewhere for COVID-19. The scientists said the findings supported the natural origin theory, which typically posits the market as the starting point of a spillover.
Chinese scientists, reporting on the same data, noted that it did not show any virus detected on swabs from animals at the market. They said the findings supported a so-called superspreader event at the market, with high levels of spread among humans, but that the origins of COVID-19 “remain to be determined.”
Correction: A previous version of this article listed the wrong state for Sen. Marshall. It is Kansas. The Epoch Times regrets the error.