COVID-19 origins: Reps. Stefanik, Wittman introduce legislation sanctioning top Chinese health officials

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Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Rob Wittman, R-Va., introduced a bill to take action against Chinese health officials as doubts remain about China’s transparency regarding the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the leader of the free world, the United States must hold Chinese Communist Party officials accountable for their unconscionable actions,” Stefanik said in a statement. “A thorough, unimpeded investigation is necessary to determine the extent of their actions and prevent the Chinese Communist Party from financially benefiting, in any form, especially at the expense of the American people.”

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The act would ask the U.S. intelligence community to identify individuals who may have silenced doctors and journalists at the beginning of the pandemic, impose Global Magnitsky Sanctions on China’s top health officials, and bar American universities from entering into any new contracts with China’s National Health Commission, among other provisions.

The bill would also prohibit the National Academy of Sciences from using federal dollars to enter into new contracts to fund Chinese-based institutes or universities that are part of China’s National Health Commission and review whether National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding has gone to gain-of-function research, directly or indirectly. 

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci has defended “modest” collaboration with scientists in Wuhan on studying bat coronaviruses while asserting that the agency did not allocate the money to do gain-of-function research. 

“We cannot allow China to impede a free and fair investigation into the origins of COVID-19,” Wittman said in a statement. “Nor can we tolerate China’s suppression of information which could prove critically important to preventing future pandemics. The sanctions imposed by the World Deserves to Know Act pave the way to uncover the truth about COVID-19’s origins.”

Security personnel gather near the entrance of the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China's Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Security personnel gather near the entrance of the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
(AP)

It’s unclear how far Stefanik and Wittman’s legislation will advance in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration would not commit to punishing China should the lab leak theory be proven true.

“We haven’t ruled out anything yet,” principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a press briefing when asked whether the virus had emerged in a manner that was “deliberate or not an accident.”

“Would the president seek to punish China?” Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked Jean-Pierre.

“We’re not going to go there just yet,” Jean-Pierre replied, “We have to go through the 90-day review. And once we have the 90-day review, will we be able to reassess.”  

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Biden previously said he had asked the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” to “bring us closer to a definitive conclusion” and get back to him within 90 days. 

Meanwhile, China is planning to build dozens of biosafety level three labs and one biosafety level four lab over the next five years.

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