China likely obtained COVID-19’s first known gene sequence weeks before publicly releasing it, contrary to Beijing’s claim that it immediately shared the information, the US House Energy & Commerce Committee said on Wednesday.
The delay is significant because it may have wasted time for the world to develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, causing needless deaths, the committee said.
The committee said a Chinese virologist, Lili Ren, submitted the pathogen’s gene sequence to the US database GenBank on December 28, 2019, the committee said.
The database belongs to the National Institutes of Health, of which Ren is a subgrantee under the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance.
Ren’s submission was lacking some technical details, so the database staff requested that she submit them three days after the initial request. If she didn’t offer these details, the sequence would be deleted, the staff said, per the committee.
The US legislators added that Ren had not uploaded the remaining information required to the database.
On January 10, 2020, about two weeks later, China released a gene sequence of COVID-19 that was “nearly identical” to Ren’s submission, the committee said, citing the Department of Health and Human Services.
The committee said this contradicted China’s repeated claims that it released the gene sequence as soon as it obtained the information.
China’s embassy in the US in 2021 released a statement attacking “US vicious slanders,” responding to dozens of allegations from US media and officials about Beijing’s handling of the virus.
“By upholding a scientific attitude and following the laws of epidemiology, the Chinese government promptly shared the virus genetic sequence and epidemic information with the World Health Organization and the international community,” the statement said.
The House committee said this example shows that China has been forthcoming with sharing vital medical information for fighting COVID-19.
“The 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 investigating lawmakers wrote.
The committee also raised concerns that the NIH had received a COVID-19 gene sequence but “apparently had no idea.”
It further criticized the Biden administration, NIH, and HHS, saying the information on the sequence submitted by Ren was only released after it was subpoenaed.
The Energy & Commerce Committee and the Health and Oversight & Investigations Subcommittees that conducted the investigation are led by Republican legislators. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington, Rep. Morgan Griffith from Virginia and Rep. Brett Guthrie from Kentucky are the three representatives.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC did not respond immediately to an outside normal business hours request for comment.