E&C Investigation Reveals China’s Lack of COVID-19 Transparency

Energy and Commerce Republicans are exposing how the Chinese Communist Party withheld critical information from the world in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Committee’s investigation revealed that China had a SARS-CoV-2 sequence for weeks before sharing with the global community. MicrosoftTeams-image (19).png

WASHINGTON — Chinese researchers isolated and mapped the virus that causes Covid-19 in late December 2019, at least two weeks before Beijing revealed details of the deadly virus to the world, congressional investigators said, raising questions anew about what China knew in the pandemic’s crucial early days. 

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When Beijing shared the SARS-CoV-2 sequence with the World Health Organization on January 11, 2020, two full weeks had elapsed since the virus was sequenced by a researcher at the Institute of Pathogen Biology in Beijing, an arm of the state-affiliated Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences which has ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and People’s Liberation Army. 

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The documents, obtained from the US Department of Health and Human Services by House Republicans and first reported by the Wall Street Journal, show virologist Dr. Lili Ren uploaded nearly the entire sequence of COVID-19’s structure to a US government-run database on Dec. 28, 2019. 

Her work was nearly identical to what Beijing eventually presented to the World Health Organization on January 11, 2020, when the virus had already spread across the world, according to the documents obtained by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

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The committee noted that Ren is a subgrantee of the EcoHealth Alliance nonprofit, the organization that previously awarded NIH grants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and came under scrutiny during the pandemic. 

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The earlier posting doesn't change the virus' origin story - whether it was sparked by a live animal market or leaked from a scientific laboratory.

But it does renew questions about how much China knew about the virus and when. It suggests that vaccine development could have started sooner. And it raises new questions about how much the U.S. government knew or should have known about the virus in those early days.

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Public health experts who reviewed the documents said the episode illustrated a missed opportunity to learn more about the virus at the beginning of the global health emergency.

The failure to publish the genetic sequence submitted by Ren is "retroactively painful," said Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. Bloom noted that researchers were depending on genetic sequences to begin developing medical interventions to combat the coronavirus and argued that earlier access to the information would have expedited new test and vaccines.

"That two weeks would have made a tangible difference in quite a few people's lives," Bloom said.


China has been widely criticized for its initial response to the emergence of COVID in Wuhan in late 2019. Western officials have also called on Beijing to be more cooperative in the search for the virus's origins.

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It "underscores how cautious we have to be about the accuracy of the information that the Chinese government has released," Jesse Bloom, a virologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center who has seen the documents and the gene sequence, told the WSJ. "It's important to keep in mind how little we know."

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HHS withheld the sequencing information from the committee for seven months, only releasing the documents after threats of subpoena.

The Energy and Commerce Committee press release said that the process for "monitoring GenBank submissions is insufficient as the United States had an early SARS-CoV-2 sequence in our possession and apparently had no idea.

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"This significant discovery further underscores why we cannot trust any of the so-called ‘facts’ or data provided by the CCP and calls into serious question the legitimacy of any scientific theories based on such information. The American people deserve to know the truth about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, and our investigation has uncovered numerous causes for concern, including how taxpayers’ dollars are spent, how our government’s public health agencies operate, and the need for more oversight into research grants to foreign scientists. In addition to equipping us to better prepare for the next pandemic, this investigation’s findings will help us as policymakers as we work to strengthen America’s biosafety practices and bolster oversight of research grants,” said Chairs Rodgers, Guthrie, and Griffith. 

READ MORE: E&C Investigation Uncovers Earliest Known SARS-CoV-2 Sequence Released Outside of China