Congressional China panel blames CDC for failing to test virus in California lab

A congressional committee investigating the influence of the Chinese Communist Party has blamed flaws in the U.S. regulatory framework that allowed a “wanted fugitive” to establish a clandestine biolab in Reedley, California, last year.

The House Select Committee on Chinese Communist Party also accused the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of providing a “baffling” and “unacceptable” response to Reedley officials who sought the agency’s help identifying thousands of vials of suspected infectious diseases at a warehouse.

The commission’s conclusions are contained in a 41-page report released Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The report specifically criticized the Centers for Disease Control for refusing to test biological materials found in refrigerators and freezers at the Reedley facility, instead relying on labels on containers to detect biological materials. The laboratory was determined to contain samples of a variety of infectious viruses, bacteria and parasites, including chlamydia, strep, hepatitis B and C, HIV, rubella, malaria and COVID-19.

“The CDC’s refusal to conduct testing has left local officials unable to assess… the dangers faced by the Reedley community and inform the community what, if any, measures should be taken to protect public safety,” the report states.

The report is based on evidence obtained from a subpoena issued to the city of Reedley in September and subsequent interviews conducted by investigators. Thousands of pages of documents, hundreds of photos taken inside the warehouse and hours of video were seized from a warehouse where Universal Meditech Inc. operates a store on I Street in downtown Reedley.

“This evidence, coupled with interviews with local officials and other investigative steps, reveals troubling gaps in federal pathogen safeguards,” the report states. “These gaps make a wanted fugitive from Canada (the People’s Republic of China) citizen , who stole millions of dollars in U.S. intellectual property and operated illegal facilities in Reedley.”

The lab’s alleged operator, Jia Bei Zhu, was arrested in Reedley in October on federal charges of manufacturing and distributing illegal COVID-19 test kits and lying to federal investigators. He remains in custody at the Fresno County Jail. He is expected to have a court hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Fresno, where his attorney, Anthony Capozzi, said Chu will plead not guilty following the release of the grand jury indictment.

Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday that Zhu apparently entered the U.S. illegally but was able to purchase the biologic. He said the investigations summarized in the report showed “how easy it is to spread these pathogens online.”

The team’s investigation determined that Zhu has ties to companies with ties to the Chinese government and “is currently wanted in Canada for contempt of court following a $330 million (Canadian) judgment for theft of U.S. intellectual property.”

“Given that Zhu had an active arrest warrant in Canada, it appears that he fled the Canadian courts and entered the United States illegally,” the report said. After arriving in the United States, Zhu then established a new corporate network.

Concerns about CDC response

In addition to not testing labeled vials, the CDC also did not bother to test the contents of unlabeled vials or containers, the report states.

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba and city code enforcement officer Jesalyn Harper spoke via video link, and both criticized how federal agencies responded to their requests for help.

“Each agency handed out business cards and tipped their hats, but left the warehouse with virtually no enforcement action,” Harper said.

“This incident shows how unprepared we are as a country,” Harper said.

Ziba described the situation as a “real house of horrors.” She said she was concerned that lab operators could remove labels from vials and the CDC would not investigate.

McCarthy said Ridley’s issue highlights the dangers of such unlicensed labs, which “can have deadly consequences not just in the Central Valley but across the country.”

The report states that the United States “does not conduct oversight of privately funded research, including the enhancement of potential pandemic pathogens,” if the biological materials are not “specific pathogens” considered most dangerous to humans.

represent. Jim CostaThe Fresno Democrat in Ridley’s district said the amount of biological agents in the warehouse was “enough to scare anyone.”

“All you need to set up a private laboratory in the United States is obtain a business license,” Costa added.

“These disparities are something we should all be concerned about,” he said.

The report states that the CDC inspected the lab site in early May, but only after Costa stepped in on behalf of the city and urged the agency to investigate the warehouse.

But because the CDC has not tested for pathogens found in warehouse refrigerators and freezers, “we still don’t know” what’s there, McCarthy said.

The report states that the CDC maintains that “there is no evidence that the select pathogens were present at (Ridley’s laboratory) or that Zhu and UMI imported infectious pathogens and that there is ‘currently insufficient evidence’ of illegal conduct.”

However, the report adds that the CDC “appears to have made this claim without conducting any investigation beyond reading English labels on a limited number of disease-causing samples.”

Costa noted that the laboratory has fueled speculation about China’s involvement and the origins of COVID-19 in the country. “What better way to create havoc than to spread disease through such laboratories,” Costa said. “I don’t think we know today” the ultimate purpose of Ridley’s lab, he added.

“The world has changed,” Costa said. “We know China is an adversary and a competitor, and they are a huge market.”

“At a minimum, Ridley BioLabs demonstrates the profound threat that unlicensed and unknown biolabs pose to our nation,” the report concluded. “At worst, this investigation reveals a lot about our nation’s defense and Huge deficiencies in pathogen-related regulations that pose serious national security risks that could be exploited in the future.”

Costa said “responsibility is vague at best” regarding the powers held by different officials. If it’s not addressed, he said, “we could have a lot of problems.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., chairman of the special committee, said the report “is not a policy report” but is intended to provide lawmakers with facts so they can take constructive steps.

One idea, he said, is to ensure a better response from federal agencies, including better communication between the CDC and other agencies.

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