US suspends federal funding to Wuhan lab over non-compliance

(Reuters) – The U.S. has suspended federal funding to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) for failing to provide documentation related to concerns over biosafety protocol violations at the facility that has faced questions for years over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also said it wants to bar the Chinese research body from participating in government procurement and non-procurement programs going forward.

WIV has not received federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. medical research agency, since July 2020, according to an HHS statement on Wednesday.

The action was taken on Monday following a months-long review that led the HHS to find that “WIV is not compliant with federal regulations and is not presently responsible”, according to a memo from the department.

“The move was undertaken due to WIV’s failure to provide documentation on WIV’s research requested by NIH related to concerns that WIV violated NIH’s biosafety protocols,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement.

The institute could not immediately be reached outside of regular business hours.

The origins of the coronavirus pandemic have been a matter of furious debate around the world almost since the first human cases were reported in Wuhan in late 2019.

U.S. Republicans released a report in 2021 citing “ample evidence” that WIV scientists were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden.

In June 2023, U.S. intelligence agencies found no direct evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic stemmed from an incident at the WIV.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in February his agency had assessed for some time that the origins of the pandemic were “most likely a potential lab incident” in the Chinese city of Wuhan. China said this claim had “no credibility whatsoever”.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas and Martin Pollard; Editing by Sandra Maler)