A top U.S. biosecurity lab is assuming responsibility for signing “poorly drafted” agreements with three high-level biosecurity labs in China that they concede may have broken the law.
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, China, on Feb. 3, 2021. (Ng Han Guan/AP Photo)
The three contracts, including one with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), gave the Chinese labs powers to destroy “secret files” from any stage of their collaboration.
“The party is entitled to ask the other to destroy and/or return the secret files, materials, and equipment without any backups,” stated the 2017 memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) signed with the Wuhan lab, which first came to light in April.
The broad confidentiality obligation, renewable every five years, applied to “[a]ll cooperation and exchange documents, data, details and materials,” the document said.
Located in the first city where COVID-19 began to spread, the WIV, which for years conducted coronavirus research with U.S. funding, has attracted global attention as a possible source of the virus. The confidentiality agreements, coupled with Beijing’s pattern of suppression of discussion on pandemic origin, raised questions over whether any crucial data may have been erased from the public eye.
The Texas medical university conceded recently that these confidentiality terms may have violated state laws.