COVID panel recommends ending Chinese immunity against U.S. lawsuits, but invokes strange statistics

Heritage Foundation-convened commission with Republican and Democratic members blames China for excess deaths caused by U.S. policy decisions, claims long COVID affects "at least" 10-20% of people.

Published: July 8, 2024 11:07pm

Updated: July 9, 2024 12:08am

Republican and Democratic heavy-hitters from the intelligence and political worlds are calling for legislative changes to hold China accountable for the economic harm caused by its ongoing lack of transparency on COVID-19, which they estimate to have cost $18 trillion in the U.S. alone.

Convened by the conservative Heritage Foundation, the nine-member Nonpartisan Commission on China and COVID-19 is dominated by former Trump administration officials but also includes a former Clinton administration National Security Council director and ex-Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Their report Monday calls for Congress to create and fund a "bipartisan U.S. National COVID-19 Commission" and a "Reparations/Compensation Task Force," and revise the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act to allow civil claims against China in U.S. courts, paid with "a deduction on interests or debts owed to China or through deductions from foreign aid funds to China."

Lawmakers should establish an audit of U.S.-funded biomedical and related research in China, with a "rebuttable presumption" that funding should be cut unless sponsors can show the research projects are "overwhelmingly in the public interest and entail extremely low risk of harm." Another federal commission would oversee the review. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson mentioned one of their recommendations, passing the Biosecure Act to decouple supply chains from Chinese state-backed companies, at a Hudson Institute speech Monday.

"China poses the greatest threat to global peace" and "Congress must keep our focus on countering China with every tool in our code," the Louisiana Repubican said. "Our goal is to have a significant package of China-related legislation signed into law by the end of this year."

The commission recommends the president demand, as a "diplomatic priority," that China allow a "comprehensive, unfettered scientific and forensic investigation" into COVID origins, economic sanctions on officials and entities involved with the "cover-up," and recognizing the pandemic as "similar to the dawning of the nuclear age," with corresponding changes to law and commerce.

The report makes curious choices with its statistics, however, possibly to inflate the amount of damages for which China could be held liable.

It blames China for harms caused by other countries' public policy choices, especially excess deaths related to delaying treatments and procedures for non-COVID illnesses to preserve hospital capacity for COVID patients, and for the highly subjective condition known as "long COVID," which the report claims affects "at least" 10-20% of infectees.

Rather than cite the 7 million COVID-related deaths figure maintained by the United Nations, the report uses the 28 million excess-death estimate created by The Economist using a "machine-learning model." 

It says long COVID has cost the U.S. $6 trillion and calls children "particularly at risk" of developing these alleged post-infection maladies, but misquotes its source: a "narrative review" published in the American Academy of Pediatrics' journal this spring. 

While the report says "an estimated 6 million children" have long COVID in the U.S., the narrative review says this is an upper limit. It attributes most research to "small, case-based, cross-sectional, retrospective, clinic-based, or convenience samples" and says the estimates range from 4-62% based on differing study designs, diagnostic criteria and other variables.

Other research suggests long COVID is not necessarily associated with the virus at all, but lack of exercise, loneliness and mask-wearing exhaustion.

Commissioners include Robert Kadlec, the Trump administration assistant secretary of health and human services who ran Operation Warp Speed, which prioritized speed of vaccine development over effectiveness against transmission and minimization of side effects, resulting in jabs that may threaten some populations more than COVID itself.

The Heritage Foundation did not respond to Just the News queries Monday to explain the report's reliance on these statistics.

Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who chairs the commission, and three other commissioners spoke at the Heritage Foundation on Monday, with House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, giving opening remarks.

Two commissioners blamed the "unique pathologies" of the Chinese Communist Party for the damage wrought by COVID.

This is an "absolutely essential nonpartisan commission," said Jamie Metzel, the former Clinton administration NSC official, who testified in favor of the lab-leak theory of COVID origins last year. China bears "primary responsibility" for a "totally avoidable political pandemic," while countries including the U.S. and France played "small and contributing roles," he said.

Commissioners have "already begun consultations" with lawmakers on revising FSIA similar to the "highly tailored amendment" in 2016 that opened U.S. liability for financing terrorists, Metzl said. They have "reason to expect significant progress" in the coming months.

The commission hopes the U.S. government endorses its "blueprint" and other countries use it to make their own damages calculations, Ratcliffe said. 

When he asked for evidence backing the intelligence community's alleged preference for the natural-origin theory, Ratcliffe said the "vast preponderance" given to him actually opposed it. He believes the CIA, the "most exquisite intelligence agency" in the world, is withholding an origins assessment because of "political considerations and financial considerations."

COVID shows the "scientific arrogance" behind gain-of-function research that makes viruses more transmissible and lethal, assuming that accidents can't happen, former CDC Director Robert Redfield said. The most telling sign for lab-leak is China's contract for a new ventilation system at the Wuhan Institute of Virology months before it acknowledged the outbreak, he said.

While the report says the pandemic "very likely stemmed from a research-related incident in Wuhan, China," commissioners Monday emphasized the debate was irrelevant to their recommendations, which focus on China's response to COVID's emergence.

Their conclusions are based on open-source information and "our own personal knowledge" in the federal government, including intelligence, Ratcliffe said.

He called China's actions "inexcusable" – destroying virus samples, hiding evidence, jailing journalists, silencing scientists and refusing to honor its World Health Organization obligations. Metzl said the CCP "cynically sandbagged" the WHO.

China is "entirely unwilling" to be transparent on matters of public health as the international system requires, said commissioner David Feith, former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. It denied the novel virus was communicable between humans going back to fall 2019 and hides early samples and sequences "to this day."

Redfield made one of the few criticisms of U.S policy at Monday's event, saying officials made a mistake by calling COVID "SARS-like" when it's "nothing like" the 2003 outbreak, whose virus had difficulty transmitting between humans.

COVID is the most infectious disease he's ever seen except for measles, Redfield said, and what makes it so transmissible in humans is what makes it so difficult to spread among bats, the supposed source of natural origin: its unusual furin cleavage site.

That's why bird flu is transmitting so poorly among humans in the current livestock outbreak affecting 27 different mammals, according to Redfield, who said he nonetheless believes the next human pandemic will be bird flu.

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