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Biden didn’t reinstate funding for Wuhan virus lab

February 25, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: President Joe Biden restored taxpayer funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Biden has not directed funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology. A National Institutes of Health grant that had funded some research at the lab was terminated in April 2020. That grant was reinstated during the administration of former President Donald Trump in July 2020, but all activities associated with it remain suspended until the grantee meets certain conditions, according to an NIH spokesperson. 

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THE FACTS: Social media users this week are falsely claiming the Biden administration is bankrolling the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Chinese lab which has faced unproven allegations that the coronavirus leaked from the facility leading to the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Biden not sending out COVID relief checks… but refunding the Wuhan lab where COVID came from is THE PERFECT EXAMPLE of America last,” read a screenshot of a Twitter post shared on Instagram.

“Voila — U.S. taxpayer money was returned to the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” a Washington Times opinion piece stated.

The claims seemed to originate with distortions of an article on the conservative news website The Daily Caller, which claimed the lab was eligible to receive U.S. taxpayer funding until 2024. The article never said the lab was currently grant funded.

It’s true that the Wuhan Institute of Virology has fulfilled one requirement that animal research facilities outside the U.S. need to receive a NIH grant: foreign assurance approval. This assurance issued by the NIH Office of Laboratory Welfare confirms that the lab complies with certain guidelines on the humane care and use of laboratory animals.

The institute’s foreign assurance was issued in 2019 and expires in 2024, the NIH told The Associated Press. However, foreign assurance is just one requirement and “does not determine whether an organization can or will receive a grant award or subaward,” according to the NIH.    

In 2014, the NIH granted an award to the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based environmental health nonprofit, for a research project on bat coronaviruses. As part of that project, the nonprofit worked with researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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But in April 2020, the NIH terminated that grant. In July, the agency technically reinstated the grant, but suspended all activity related to it, citing “bio-safety concerns″ at the lab and asking EcoHealth Alliance to meet a list of conditions. Those conditions included arranging for an outside team to investigate the lab “with specific attention to addressing the question of whether WIV staff had SARS-CoV-2 in their possession prior to December 2019,” according to a letter from the NIH to EcoHealth Alliance viewed by The Associated Press.

Some social media users have speculated that a recent World Health Organization trip to the Wuhan Institute of Virology could help satisfy the NIH’s conditions, since the team of experts on the trip determined it was unlikely the coronavirus leaked from the lab.

Peter Embarek, the WHO food safety and animal disease expert who led the mission, said initial findings suggest the most likely pathway the virus followed was from a bat to another animal and then to humans. He called the unsubstantiated theory that the virus traveled from the Wuhan lab to humans “extremely unlikely.”

However, there’s no indication at this point that this finding will change the status of the grant that was previously funding research at the lab. Activities associated with the grant have not been allowed to resume at this point, spokespeople for the NIH and EcoHealth Alliance both confirmed to the AP.

In August 2020, the NIH awarded a separate, $7.5 million grant to EcoHealth Alliance and 10 other institutions to establish the Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases. That grant does not fund any EcoHealth Alliance research in China, and the nonprofit is not currently doing any research in China, according to a spokesperson.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536