As the battle between Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro and the Chinese government mounts regarding whether laboratories of the Wuhan Institute of Virology were ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic, one of his former academic stomping grounds is ramping up its own coronavirus experiments.
“If you simply do an Occam's razor approach that the simplest explanation is probably the most likely, I think it's incumbent on China to prove that it wasn't that lab,” Navarro told the Hill last month, asserting that the Chinese government had covered up the outbreak.
“This was a time where that virus could have been contained in Wuhan,” he said, decrying what he said was lack of transparency at the giant laboratory complex. “Instead, 5 million Chinese people went out from Wuhan and propagated the virus around the world.”
Navarro in San Diego days. “This was a time where that virus could have been contained in Wuhan.”
Meanwhile, back in San Diego, UCSD, where economist and onetime San Diego politico Navarro was a lecturer in 1985 and 1986, is rolling out the welcome mat for coronavirus laboratory work by its researchers.
How the university handles public disclosure of the experimental work could come into play as the administration's dispute with the Chinese evolves.
At the crux of the matter is UCSD's Institutional Biosafety Committee, otherwise known as IBC.
"The IBC establishes, monitors and enforces policies and procedures which meet or exceed applicable norms or regulations for biohazardous materials and/or recombinant DNA, including gene transfer clinical trials," says the group's official website.
"All research involving samples known or suspected to contain SARS-CoV-2 must be approved by the IBC prior to start of research."
The waiting line of would-be coronavirus researchers seeking IBC approval of their experiments is long, but officials have told researchers that granting of permissions is being accomplished as rapidly as possible.
"COVID-19 related research is getting expedited review by the IBC," says an online message to the academics. "But please keep in mind that there have been many researchers expressing interest in this research who have also submitted amendments to their [Biohazard Use Authorization ]."
Biosafety committee members have been "very accommodating in their schedule to review protocols and in attending emergency IBC meetings," the notice adds.
"We ask for your continued patience as BUAs are reviewed as quickly as possible without compromising safety."
On paper, the biosafety committee has sweeping enforcement powers to use against those who flaunt its edicts, though "sanctions are subject to review and/or modification by the Chancellor."
"The IBC has the authority to impose disciplinary measures in cases where there is willful or negligent violation of UC San Diego's established biosafety practices and procedures, " the guidance adds.
Who are the members making possibly life and death decisions on whether to greenlight the experimental work?
Per UCSD's online coronavirus research guidelines, the Institutional Biosafety Committee "consists of faculty representation from different departments across campus, including Health Sciences, and multiple members of the community."
According to a committee post: "The IBC shall maintain diverse membership representing the community and a variety of university interests."
At the moment, the 25-member board, which includes 12 ex-officio members, has three vacant seats, two designated to be occupied by General Campus Faculty and one for an Engineering Faculty representative, according to its online roster.
The two so-called Community Representatives are listed as Christopher Peter and Zoë Blaylock, with Michael White having the dual role of Community Representative and Plant Expert.
No details regarding their identity and background was available. IBC officials did not immediately respond to a request by email for further information.