‘China’s to Blame’ Regardless of How COVID-19 Came About, Senator Says

Bipartisan consensus grows over strengthening oversight of experiments on dangerous viruses.
‘China’s to Blame’ Regardless of How COVID-19 Came About, Senator Says
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) speaks during a hearing in Washington on April 26, 2022. (Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images)
Eva Fu

The blame is on the Chinese regime no matter how COVID-19 arose, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said on June 18.

“Whether it was from a wet market, or the Wuhan lab, China’s to blame. Both those things were in China,” he said at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing that was examining evidence on the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“They should take responsibility for it and should have opened themselves up to complete disclosure.”

Since the virus emerged from China’s Wuhan city and ballooned into a global pandemic, Beijing has repeatedly deflected responsibility, demanding critics look elsewhere around the world for possible sources of the disease.

It has meanwhile muffled whistleblowers and refused to hand full data to outside investigators, including experts of the World Health Organization, even as it proclaims itself “open and transparent” on the origins issue.

The question remains whether the virus existed in Wuhan before the pandemic broke out, and for how long.

“It’s just one of the many things that we’re missing that we would like to get from the Chinese government,” said Dr. Robert Garry, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane University.

In terms of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is at the center of lab leak suspicions, outside experts are still hoping to review records about research the lab is conducting, medical surveillance on the facility’s researchers, and maintenance operations for the biocontainment equipment, to determine whether there were signs of accidents or the virus’s laboratory escape.

“The Chinese government has chosen to be opaque about what they have and what they know, in a way that has frustrated people involved with looking at this in terms of assessing both the natural zoonotic spillover pathway and also looking at the lab accident pathway,” said Gregory Koblentz, director of the biodefense graduate program at George Mason University.

Dr. Garry and Mr. Koblentz both lean in favor of a natural origins theory. Dr. Garry was one of the co-authors of a Nature article titled “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” which plays down the likelihood that the virus originated in a lab.

Dr. Steven Quay, founder of Atossa Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical firm, pointed to circumstantial evidence such as the Wuhan lab’s links to the military, the takedown of the lab’s virus sequence database in September 2019, and the shipment of vials of dangerous pathogens to the lab before the outbreak as factors that raised his suspicions.

The COVID-19 virus genome contains unique features such as a furin cleavage site in its spike protein that has been linked to the virus’ high infectivity. Some U.S. scientists had proposed to experiment with this feature on coronavirus genomes in 2018, in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute.

A man crosses an empty street in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, on Feb. 3, 2020. (Getty Images)
A man crosses an empty street in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, on Feb. 3, 2020. (Getty Images)
Dr. Quay also noted the proteins of opening reading frame 8 in the SARS-CoV-2 genome, an accessory protein that researchers say functions to block one’s body from presenting symptoms of infection, which he described as “highly unusual” and “highly synthetic.”

“The probability that SARS-2 came from nature, based on these features, is one in a billion,” he said.

With no definitive evidence on the virus’s origin, lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing agree that there should be stricter guardrails over gain-of-function research, or the manipulation of a pathogen that can enhance its pandemic potential.

“In this category of research, which is the most significant in terms of consequences, and potentially existential risk, there is almost no regulation with force of law,” said Dr. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University. “That needs to change.”

Regarding accountability, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) called for a “9/11-style commission” to probe the issue.

“There’s too many bright lights here. There’s too many cameras, it’s too political,” he told NTD, a sister outlet of The Epoch Times. “We need to get this outside of Washington, D.C., and investigate this.

“The most important thing we’re doing is trying to prevent this from happening again.”

Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S. politics, U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at [email protected]