Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday released their final report investigating China’s actions related to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, accusing Beijing of covering up the virus threat and faulting the World Health Organization for failing to push back.
The 96-page report builds on interim findings released in June by Republicans, and largely backs President Trump's argument that the COVID-19 pandemic could have been prevented if not for the actions of China.
The report accuses China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of destroying evidence, suppressing information about the virus spread and failing to notify the world of the first cases of the disease and under obligations of International Health Regulations.
“In sum, the COVID-19 global pandemic could have been prevented if the CCP acted in a transparent and responsible manner,” the report states.
Ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) repeated GOP calls for the resignation of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for the global health body’s response to the pandemic and its failure to censure China over its handling of the virus.
“It is crystal clear that had the CCP been transparent, and had the head of the WHO cared more about global health than appeasing the CCP, lives could have been spared and widespread economic devastation could have been mitigated,” McCaul said in a statement. “Revealing the truth is just the first step; we must hold both the CCP and WHO Director General Tedros accountable for the suffering they have allowed the world to endure.”
The report is being released weeks before a presidential election where Trump's handling of the pandemic is expected to be on voters minds.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has heavily criticized Trump's actions, saying he has not listened to science and has given mixed messages on social distancing and the wearing of masks that could have reduced COVID-19's effect on the nation. Polls show a majority of voters disapprove of how Trump has managed the pandemic.
Trump on Monday gave himself an "A+" on the his job performance on the coronavirus and has repeatedly cast the pandemic as a problem created by China.
The U.S. is poised to record more than 200,000 deaths from the disease, a mark that could be hit any day.
The GOP report says China destroyed what could have been crucial evidence of the outbreak of the disease by closing and sanitizing the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market on Jan. 1. The first identified cases of the novel coronavirus were linked to this market in mid-December.
The report also faults the CCP for delaying in early January, at least twice, the public release that it had identified and sequenced the genome of the virus and that it ignored warning signs and played down early evidence of human-to-human transmission, an argument that was then supported by the WHO.
Early warnings of human-to-human transmission were further raised by Taiwan and dismissed by the WHO, the report notes.
They cite a Dec. 31 email from the Taiwanese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the WHO expressing alarm in Chinese media over cases of “atypical pneumonia” and that the Chinese patients were being isolated, a sign of human-to-human transmission.
Such a recognition would not be publicly made by Chinese officials or the WHO until Jan. 20.
As part of its recommendations for reform to the WHO and reaction to China’s actions, the GOP report calls for Taiwan to be included in the WHO as an observer state — a move that Beijing vehemently opposes. Beijing blocked Taiwan’s participation in this year's World Health Assembly.
The report also says China had enough information as early as mid-December to inform the WHO that the outbreak in Wuhan was an event that constituted a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” a designation that was not made until Jan. 30 on the authority of the WHO director-general.
The report highly criticized Tedros's failure to push back on the Chinese government’s narrative.
“The WHO has repeatedly parroted CCP talking points while ignoring conflicting information from reputable sources. Director General Tedros’ full-throated defense of the CCP’s early response and embrace of their revisionist history, as well as the impact of his actions on the global response, remains incredibly concerning,” the authors wrote.
The report says China’s nationalization of supply chains in early February for personal protective equipment harmed the global response and slowed the delivery of such gear to the U.S.
“It is highly likely that China’s nationalization of the manufacturing capacity of foreign companies, including 3M and General Motors, directly impacted the ability of the United States and other countries to procure PPE on the global market,” it stated.
The Republican report argues China wanted to cover up the threat and spread of the virus and then control the narrative of its handling of the outbreak and discredit contrary reporting.
While the GOP report supports the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community that the virus is natural and not genetically modified, it highlighted 2018 State Department cables that raised safety concerns at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and faulted the Chinese government for not providing lab samples of its coronavirus research program to compare to the current pandemic strain.
“Ultimately, no conclusion has been reached as to what role, if any, the WIV played in the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors wrote.
The report makes four recommendations in response to what it views as gross missteps by the WHO and as punishment for China’s actions.
In addition to calling for the resignation of Tedros and the re-admittance of Taiwan to the WHO as an observer state, the report calls for strengthening International Health Regulations on the reporting of threatening diseases.
House GOP members further said the WHO must “fix the deficiencies outlined by the Administration, adopt the recommendations of this report through internal action where possible, and make preparations for improvements and reforms that need to be ratified by the World Health Assembly at its next meeting or emergency session.”