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US suspends funds to Covid 'lab leak' firm given taxpayer cash for virus tests

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THE US government has suspended funding to an American firm at the centre of the storm over the origins of Covid.

EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based non-profit, has been under fire since the early days of the pandemic over its bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology - where US firm EcoHealth Alliance worked closely with researchers on bat coronavirus experiments

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The Wuhan Institute of Virology – where US firm EcoHealth Alliance worked closely with researchers on bat coronavirus experimentsCredit: Reuters
Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, pictured at the Wuhan lab in 2021, was quizzed by Congress in May

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Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, pictured at the Wuhan lab in 2021, was quizzed by Congress in MayCredit: AFP

The group has faced scrutiny over whether Covid may have emerged from the research at the lab that was funded by the US government.

In a letter, the Department of Health and Human Services informed the group it has been suspended from federal funding programmes.

The department is also proposing to formally ban EcoHealth Alliance from receiving funding, the letter said.

Grants from National Institutes of Health and other US agencies fund most of EcoHealth Alliance’s budget – about $14million in 2022.

It comes after The Sun revealed the US government has dished out some $60million (£47.8million) of public money to the organisation since the start of the pandemic – despite questions still raging over its role at the Wuhan lab.

They have continued to collect and test hundreds of samples of bat coronaviruses since 2020 with US government funding.

And the company’s boss – Dr Peter Daszak – was quizzed before Congress earlier this month.

The suspension of funding for the non-profit has been welcomed by lawmakers investigating the origins of Covid.

Congressman Brad Wenstrup – who chairs the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic – said: “EcoHealth Alliance and Dr Peter Daszak should never again receive a single penny from the US taxpayer.

“EcoHealth facilitated gain-of-function research in Wuhan, China without proper oversight, willingly violated multiple requirements of its multimillion-dollar National Institutes of Health grant, and apparently made false statements to the NIH.

“These actions are wholly abhorrent, indefensible, and must be addressed with swift action.

“EcoHealth’s immediate funding suspension and future debarment is not only a victory for the US taxpayer, but also for American national security and the safety of citizens worldwide.”

The suspension comes one day before a top official from the National Institutes of Health – which funded the Wuhan lab – is scheduled to testify before Congress.

In a joint statement, lawmakers Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Brett Guthrie and Morgan Griffith said the announcement “is welcomed but long overdue”.

“Not only did EcoHealth Alliance intend to mislead the federal government through research proposals, but EcoHealth’s President Peter Daszak also lied to Congress.

“This deception and obstruction alone are enough to merit debarment and come in addition to EcoHealth’s mishandling of taxpayer-funded grant money and failure to conduct meaningful oversight of the now-debarred Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“We commend the US Right to Know for uncovering the notes from the DEFUSE Project grant application that revealed Daszak’s deception, as well as members from both sides of the aisle who worked to hold him accountable.”

EcoHealth Alliance has repeatedly denied its research at the Wuhan lab has any connection to the pandemic.

It has also denied carrying out gain-of-function research at the lab.

The organisation said it “is disappointed by HHS’[s] decision” and “will be contesting the proposed debarment”.

It added: “We disagree strongly with the decision and will present evidence to refute each of these allegations and to show that NIH’s continued support of EcoHealth Alliance is in the public interest.”

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