GOP Senators Introduce Legislation Sanctioning Beijing Over Obstruction of COVID-19 Origins Investigation

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
January 12, 2022 Updated: January 12, 2022

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), along with 15 other Republican senators, has introduced a bill that would authorize sanctions and other restrictions on Chinese officials and scientists unless Beijing allows for a “credible and comprehensive international investigation” into the origins of COVID-19 at suspected labs in China.

“For two years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stonewalled all efforts to uncover the true origins of COVID-19,” Rubio said in a Jan. 11 statement from his office. “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.

“My bill will force the CCP to the table.”

The bill, named the Coronavirus Origin Validation, Investigation, and Determination (COVID) Act of 2022, gives the Chinese regime 90 days after the legislation’s enactment to open up its labs to the investigation.

According to the language of the bill (pdf), a team of international experts would need to be allowed to carry out a “transparent international forensic investigation” of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the Wuhan Center for Disease Control, and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, as well as all other labs in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Current and former employees at these labs should be allowed to speak to the experts, who will also need to have “unlimited access” to virus cultures, databases, and specimens at these facilities, according to the bill.

The bill names Shi Zhengli, China’s top virologist working at the WIV, and says her laboratory logs and notebooks should be made available to the investigative team.

The WIV has long been suspected as the origin of the CCP virus, the pathogen that causes COVID-19, given that the institute has been doing research on bat coronaviruses for more than a decade. The institute is also a short distance from a Wuhan wet market where the first cluster of infection cases was said to have emerged.

Beijing has denied that the virus’s origin was linked to the WIV and has pushed a natural zoonotic hypothesis—that the virus was transmitted to humans from an animal host.

The investigative team would also need to have access to WIV records such as security logs and surveillance video footage, and test WIV staff for past COVID-19 infection.

Epoch Times Photo
The P4 laboratory, designated as the highest level of biological safety, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, on April 17, 2020. (AFP via Getty Images/Hector Retamal)

In January 2020, the U.S. State Department released a fact sheet saying it had reason to believe that “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

The COVID Act reads, “The central, provincial, and municipal authorities of the People’s Republic of China facilitate the work of the investigative team and refrain from imposing any restrictions on the scope, scale, and duration of the investigation.”

If Beijing fails to allow the investigation, the bill mandates that the U.S. president impose sanctions on top Chinese officials running China’s state-owned Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), and its affiliated institutes and laboratories, including WIV.

The bill would also suspend federal research funding for studies that involve the CAS, and prohibit gain-of-function virus research cooperation between any U.S.-based individual or institution that receives federal funding and any China-based individual or institution.

Rubio introduced a similar bill (S.2148) in 2021. The current legislation builds on the previous one by authorizing the president to sanction any CCP officials, including those in the Chinese military and the Ministry of Public Security, for their involvement in China’s early coverup of the COVID-19 outbreak and obstructing an international investigation into the origins of the virus.

The sanctions listed in the bill include denying visas and blocking assets.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s deception on COVID origins has come at the expense of American lives,” stated Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) according to the statement from Rubio. Blackburn was one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

“In no way should the United States enable or encourage the dangerous and deceptive practices of these Chinese-state labs, and this legislation will expand on our existing work by formally levying long overdue sanctions against the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”

An investigation team led by the World Health Organization (WHO) traveled to Wuhan to investigate in early 2021. However, Beijing refused to provide the team with raw data on early COVID-19 cases. Moreover, critics have also denounced the WHO investigation as lacking independence, since some team members had ties to the Chinese regime.

Other co-sponsors of the legislation are Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), and John Kennedy (R-La.).

Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.