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11 Mar, 2023 04:51

US Congress greenlights Covid origins report

If the bill is enacted, intelligence officials would be required to forward a declassified report to lawmakers within 90 days
US Congress greenlights Covid origins report

The US House of Representatives has voted unanimously to pass a bill that would direct the federal government to declassify all information related to the genesis of the Covid-19 pandemic, sending the measure to President Joe Biden’s desk. 

The legislation cleared the House on Friday, with 204 Democrats joining 215 Republicans in a 419-0 vote. The Senate’s version of the same bill, introduced by Republican Josh Hawley of Missouri, was also passed with no opposition last week. 

If enacted into law, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would be required to submit a declassified report to Congress within three months. However, while the White House has declared that President Biden is determined to “get to the bottom” of the global health crisis, officials have also stressed the need to protect classified information. Biden recently told reporters he had not decided whether to sign the bill, leaving its fate unclear.

Both major parties voiced support for the measure during debate on the House floor, with Democrat Jim Himes calling for greater “transparency” from the government, arguing that the “factual grounding of the [intelligence community’s] analysis can be an antidote to the speculation, the rumor and the theories that grow in the absence of good information.”

House Republican Mike Turner, who chairs the chamber’s Intelligence Committee, also said the “American public deserves answers to every aspect of Covid-19 pandemic,” including on the virus’ origin, which he suggested could have been a “natural occurrence” or “the result of a lab-related event.”

A number of lawmakers and officials have suggested Covid-19 originated due to a leak from a major virology lab in Wuhan, China, with FBI Director Christopher Wray recently telling Fox News the virus “most likely” emerged from the facility. Though he cited no publicly available evidence, his comments followed reports that the Department of Energy had also shifted its stance on the origins question, now endorsing the lab leak theory, though only with “low confidence.”

China has vocally denied suggestions the pathogen escaped from the high-security laboratory, rejecting the claim as a way to smear the country’s image abroad. Earlier this week, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry accused Washington of “spreading myths” about the pandemic, also calling on the World Health Organization to launch a new probe into the matter within the United States following similar investigations in the People's Republic.