The White House is intensifying its search for evidence that SARS-CoV-2 might have leaked from a Chinese Level 4 BSL laboratory called the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan. Democrats and their allies in the press have dismissed claims that the virus may have leaked either deliberately or accidentally, from the institute - citing the disappearance of a scientist suspected of being "patient zero" as possible evidence.
American mainstream media have derided these suspicions as "evidence-free conspiracy theories", typically neglecting to mention that while there's only scant evidence of a leak, there seems to be some evidence of a cover-up, including the disappearance of a "whistleblower" scientist believed to be "patient zero" for the outbreak.
But as it tries to root out all the information it can from any organization tied to the WIV, the White House is trying to pressure an American scientific institute known as the EcoHealth Alliance, which the administration alleges has unsavory ties to the WIV. The Trump Administration has suspended a multi-million dollar grant to the EcoHealth Alliance, jeopardizing its research, and is claiming it won't reinstate the grant until EcoHealth tells the US something about the institute.
According to the WSJ report, the administration, via the NIH, has denied the grant and is seeking a copy of the original coronavirus genome sequence provided by the Wuhan Institute, along with explanations for what happened to whistleblowing scientist we mentioned above.
The NIH also ordered EcoHealth Alliance to explain purported restrictions at the Wuhan institute, including "diminished cell-phone traffic in October 2019, and the evidence that there may have been roadblocks surrounding the facility from October 14-19, 2019." The request follows a trip by WHO investigators who said they wouldn't investigate the WIV, despite the fact that samples of the virus were kept there. A government report in April determined that the lab was "most likely" the source of the virus.
The administration is also demanding that EcoHealth furnish "a response" from the WIV regarding safety protocols that the lab was supposedly following. Readers might remember these "safety protocols" as a reason frequently cited by critics of the theory about a leak by arguing that lab security was tighter than in the US (in fact, there's plenty of evidence to suspect a leak is a credible possibility.
The mysterious whistleblower, whom Chinese authorities have dismissed as a "grad student" who has already 'returned home', two journalists, Chen Quishi and Fang Bin, were disappeared in February after sharing videos unmasking the seriousness of the situation in Wuhan.
For what it's worth, EcoHealth has insisted that it doesn't possess any of the information or documents that the administration is seeking. It has also attacked the White House for shutting down their critical research on viral transmission from animals to humans at a time, they say, when that work is especially relevant.
We must admit, the way the administration, via the NIH, is going about this sounds like a shakedown, which Trump's critics have implied. But we're curious to see whether the White House relents first, or EcoHealth does. Furthermore, some have effectively accused the NIH of carrying out a kind of Witch Hunt at Trump's behest.