Rep. Andy Barr: Coronavirus — Congress, make China answer for pandemic

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Since the end of February, over 47,000 Americans have died as a result of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, the government has shut down wide swaths of the U.S. economy, more than 4 in 10 Americans say they’ve had their wages cut or lost their jobs, and Congress has borrowed nearly $3 trillion to respond in a four-phase-and-counting legislative rescue. In short, American life has been turned upside down in every way because of this global pandemic.

As we continue to “flatten the curve” and gradually begin to re-open the economy, the American people deserve answers about how this contagion started, how it spread and how we can prevent something like this from ever happening again.

So this month, I introduced House Concurrent Resolution 97, legislation that would establish a bipartisan, joint select committee to investigate the origins of and China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. The committee would be comprised of 20 members of Congress, 10 from the House and 10 from the Senate, led by two co-chairs, one appointed by the speaker of the House and one appointed by the Senate majority leader.

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The focus on China is well-founded. Just over two years ago, diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a bioresearch laboratory in the Hubei Province. The American officials were so alarmed by what they saw, they sent a series of sensitive but unclassified cables to the State Department, warning their superiors that Chinese scientists were performing highly risky research into “SARS-like coronaviruses in bats” using deficient safety procedures.

The officials noted that the laboratory “had a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory” and that this could result in human transmission and the potential risk of a “future emerging coronavirus outbreak.”

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The U.S. intelligence community is now looking into this laboratory and Congress should as well.

Then there is the case of Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan who sounded the alarm in December in a private WeChat message with other doctors, alerting them of the need to wear protective gear to protect themselves from a new, highly contagious unknown pneumonia-like virus showing up in areas hospitals.

Dr. Li was detained by Chinese Communist Party authorities, questioned and forced to recant his statements. Dr. Li later died from COVID-19.

The Chinese government issued denials, in the face of all evidence, of human-to-human transmission of the disease — a falsehood repeated well into January by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The communists in Beijing put us all at risk, and the American people deserve answers about China’s deceptive and destructive behavior. 

The cover-up was aided by Beijing’s successful efforts to sideline civil society organizations, prevent faith-based, humanitarian and non-governmental organizations from offering assistance, and disallowing foreign governments, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from entering the country to help respond to and contain the outbreak.

The Chinese government’s lies, propaganda, and disinformation campaign reached its zenith when the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed without evidence that U.S. military athletes caused the coronavirus, and then in March, ejected journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal from the country.

By silencing whistleblowers like Dr. Li, severely restricting freedom of information, shutting down early warnings and actively spreading lies and disinformation, the Chinese Communist Party enabled the virus to spread more quickly, infect more people, and evolve into the worst global pandemic in over a century. According to one study, the virus could have been “reduced by 95 percent globally” if China had acted three weeks earlier.

China lied from the very beginning of this virus. They covered up the origins and severity of the disease, they underreported their initial cases, and they manipulated the WHO to spread misinformation about human-to-human transmission.

As if those things were not bad enough, once COVID-19 became a global pandemic, the Chinese government embarked on an elaborate scheme to vacuum up and hoard personal protective equipment, including medical masks, gowns and gloves and weaponize the global supply chain of critical medical and pharmaceutical supplies against the international community, including the United States.

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The communists in Beijing put us all at risk, and the American people deserve answers about China’s deceptive and destructive behavior. We cannot prepare for the future or protect the health and safety of the American people going forward unless we uncover the whole truth about the current pandemic.

It’s time for Congress to pass my resolution, establish this select oversight committee and hold China accountable.

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