A bill that aims to sanction Chinese officials for preventing investigations into the alleged artificial origins of COVID-19 was introduced in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
The legislation, known as the Coronavirus Origin Validation, Investigation and Determination (COVID) Act of 2022, would authorize sanctions 90 days after its enactment if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “fails to allow for a credible and comprehensive international investigation into laboratories in Wuhan,” according to Rubio’s website.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is speculated to be the source of SARS-CoV-2 — the pathogen responsible for COVID-19 — due to its laboratory with biosafety level 4, the highest security level required to isolate dangerous biological agents in an enclosed facility.
Former President Donald Trump was one of the earliest proponents of the so-called lab leak theory, but scientists at the time largely dismissed the idea as pure conspiracy.
The theory was thrusted back into the spotlight around May 2021, when President Joe Biden ordered the intelligence community to conduct a closer review of COVID-19’s origins. He said they called it one of “two likely scenarios,” the other being human contact from an infected animal or natural exposure.
After a 90-day investigation, the intelligence community failed to trace an exact origin, but concluded that the virus “was not developed as a biological weapon.” They also found that Chinese officials “did not have foreknowledge of the virus” before the initial outbreak.
Introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) along with other GOP senators, the COVID Act of 2022 would specifically sanction officials of the CAS and its affiliates, including the WIV, who fail to cooperate with investigations into the virus’ origins.
The legislation would also “suspend federal research funding” for studies involving the CAS and prohibit “gain-of-function virus research cooperation between any individual or institution based in the United States that receives federal funding and any PRC-based individual or institution,” according to Rubio’s site.
The bill is a revamped version of the same legislation Rubio introduced last year, but now includes sanctions.
“For two years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stonewalled all efforts to uncover the true origins of COVID-19,” Rubio said in a statement. “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… It is clear that Beijing will only respond to concerted pressure from the United States and the international community. My bill will force the CCP to the table.”
China, on the other hand, has repeatedly dismissed the lab leak theory. The country has limited access to origin investigations, including to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ghebreyesus admitted that the lab leak theory was prematurely discounted, urging China to be “transparent” and “open” so that the idea can finally be ruled out; however, China accused the WHO of “arrogance” and a “disrespect for common sense,” according to the South China Morning Post.
Trump has maintained his belief in the credibility of the lab leak theory, last month saying China owed the world about $60 trillion in damages for causing the pandemic.
“I think the origins are so obvious,” he told Fox News. “They came out of the Wuhan lab. And I think if anybody thinks anything differently, they’re just kidding themselves. So, you can ask — China has to pay. They have to do something. They have to pay reparations.”
Featured Image via Sen. Marco Rubio