Bill to declassify COVID origins information goes to Biden’s desk
A bill requiring the director of National Intelligence to declassify the origins of COVID-19 will now head to the desk of President Joe Biden.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday voted 419 to 0 to pass the bill after the Senate passed it with unanimous consent last week.
Both Democrats and Republicans agree that it was an important step in clearing up the source of the coronavirus, which has become a highly politicized debate and further strained U.S.-China relations.
Biden will now have to decide whether to sign the bill or veto it, and the White House has yet to signal what his intention is.
This move by Congress to declassify intelligence comes days after the U.S. Energy Department released a report assessing that the virus had most likely come from a "potential lab leak" in Wuhan, but that it had “low confidence” about the assessment.
The bill, titled the COVID-19 Origin Act, would require officials to release any information about coronavirus and other research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology prior to the COVID outbreak, which led to researchers falling ill in 2019.
National Intelligence officials would have to redact the declassified information, though it’s unclear what the limits of that will be.
Last week, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged countries to come forward with information on the source of COVID-19.
The WHO chief also criticized the “politicization” of the virus’ origins, saying that it turned “a purely scientific process into a geopolitical football.”
A National Intelligence threat assessment report released last month said that the two plausible explanations for the virus’ origins are “natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.” The report also noted that Beijing was hindering the global investigation by resisting attempts to share information.
A group set up by the United Nations in 2021 to investigate the origins of COVID said that studies must be conducted in China to either confirm or eliminate existing theories.
But as of now, Beijing has yet to be transparent about its data, Ghebreyesus said, adding that “all hypotheses on the origins of the virus remain on the table.”