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US legislators approve COVID origins intel declassification

Unanimous House vote directs bill to release US intelligence information related to COVID origins to US President Joe Biden.

The United States House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill requiring government intelligence agencies to release information related to the origins of COVID-19.

The sweeping bipartisan measure was approved on Friday by 419 votes to none. The bill now heads to the desk of US President Joe Biden, who has not indicated whether he plans to sign or veto the legislation, which was passed by a unanimous vote in the Senate in early March.

Even if the president vetoes the bill, both chambers of Congress are on track to get the two-thirds majority needed to break the barrier.

While experts have said the true origins of the coronavirus — first recorded in Wuhan, China, in 2019 — may never be known, lawmakers have been pushing for a clearer picture of the information so far provided by the U.S. intelligence community. has been collected.

“Transparency is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Representative Jim Himes, the leading Democrat member on the House Committee on Intelligence, said during a brief debate Friday.

“The American public deserves answers to every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Michael Turner, the committee’s Republican chairman.

That includes, he said, “how this virus was created and specifically whether it was a natural occurrence or the result of a lab-related event.”

The World Health Organization has also urged all countries to reveal what they know about the origins of COVID-19, with Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying that “all hypotheses about the origin of the virus remain on the table”. He urged countries to resist politicizing the search for the origin of the virus.

US agencies remain divided on whether the virus spread to humans through an infected animal or escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after being collected naturally.

No assessment by U.S. intelligence has shown that the virus is man-made, Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, told senators at a hearing on Wednesday.

“Basically, there is broad consensus in the intelligence community that the outbreak is not the result of a bioweapon or genetic engineering,” she said. “What there’s no consensus on is whether it’s a lab leak or not.”

The U.S. Department of Energy concluded with “little confidence” that the virus likely escaped via a lab accident, consistent with the FBI’s assessment but contradicting the conclusions of several other agencies.

Robert Redfield, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made the case for the lab leak theory to senators on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of Health have identified an infected animal as the likely culprit.

If signed into law, the bill would require the release within 90 days of “any information related to possible links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the coronavirus disease.”

It contains information about research and other activities in the lab and whether researchers have fallen ill.