The Canadian government is funding a COVID-19 research project that involves collaboration with the China-based infectious-disease lab at the heart of the controversy surrounding the origin of the disease.
A University of Alberta professor has received a grant worth more than 828,000 Canadian dollars ($590,000) to work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to develop COVID-19 tests, according to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a government agency.
The project aims to develop rapid and inexpensive tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party virus), a novel coronavirus that emerged from mainland China last year.
Top American officials confirmed this week that U.S. intelligence is looking into whether the P4 lab, which is part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, is the source of the virus, which to date has caused at least 149,024 deaths globally and infected 2,188,194 people.
The numbers are considered inaccurate by many because of a lag in data collection by governments as well as significant underreporting of known cases and deaths by mainland China.
The recipient of the Canadian government grant is professor Le Xiaochun, an analytical and environmental toxicology researcher at the University of Alberta. His project is one of roughly 100 that Canadian authorities have funded recently that pertain to COVID-19.
Canadian authorities have not said why the Wuhan lab was chosen but a spokesman for federal Health Minister Patty Hadju told the Globe and Mail, a Canadian news outlet, that this and other state-funded research projects undergo “rigorous peer review” by experts independent of the government.
Speaking to the same outlet, a spokeswoman for the University of Alberta said the Wuhan lab was chosen because researchers there have considerable experience with COVID-19 testing.
“The collaboration with the researcher in Wuhan is limited to knowledge sharing only. We are not exchanging samples and are not transferring any funding,” said Hallie Brodie, according to the Globe and Mail. “It will take a global community of clinicians and researchers collaborating across borders to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to eventually develop vaccinations.”
She added that most of the research for the project would take place in Edmonton and Winnipeg, two major Canadian cities.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology surged into the spotlight amid mounting efforts to determine exactly how the outbreak began.
The broad scientific consensus holds that the virus, which carries the official name SARS-CoV-2, originated in bats.
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his administration was trying to determine links between the virus and the Wuhan lab, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Beijing “needs to come clean” on what they know.
While the bulk of the evidence obtained and reviewed thus far suggests the virus has a natural origin, it is not conclusive, according to U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in remarks to reporters Tuesday.
“I would just say at this point, it’s inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural, but we don’t know for certain,” he said.
As far back as February, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has pushed back against rumors that the virus may have been artificially synthesized at one of its laboratories or perhaps escaped from such a facility.
The Washington Post reported this week that national security officials in the Trump administration have long suspected research facilities in Wuhan to be the source of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
In 2018, American officials visited the Wuhan facility multiple times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was researching coronaviruses from bats, according to the Washington Post. Those cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the lab and proposed more attention and help.
Pompeo, appearing on Fox News’ “The Story” on Wednesday, called on Chinese authorities to cooperate in an investigation into the origin of the virus.
“The Chinese government needs to come clean and needs to be accountable,” he said. “It needs to explain what happened and why it is the case that that information wasn’t made more broadly available.”
The Epoch Times debuted a documentary earlier this month looking into the origin of the CCP virus. Senior investigative reporter Joshua Philipp found most early patients in China had no link to a wet market, an exotic animal market that communist officials have tried pinpointing as the origin.
Philipp cited journal reports that showed high similarity between the new virus and two viruses sampled from bats by the Chinese military and a similar spike protein from SARS to SARS-CoV-2, or the CCP virus.
“The high similarities from the S-proteins from SARS one to SARS two, that’s the lock and key. That’s what drives it right through human cells,” Judy Mikovits, a molecular biologist who formerly directed the Lab of Antiviral Mechanisms at the National Cancer Institute, told The Epoch Times. “This is again evidence that it couldn’t go through the Wuhan seafood market.
Meanwhile, at a briefing at the Rose Garden on Wednesday, Trump characterized America’s struggle with the virus as a “historic battle against the invisible enemy.”
“A cruel virus from a distant land has unfairly claimed thousands of precious American lives. To every citizen who has lost a cherished loved one: Your pain is our pain. We mourn as one national family,” Trump said.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.