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Wuhan ‘lab leak’ coronavirus theory in focus as House Republicans demand answers

Congressional Republicans are leading “comprehensive” investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the possibility of an “accidental” leak from a Wuhan lab.

The top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash., wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week requesting documents to “assist” in their investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

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“As leaders on the Congressional Committee with jurisdiction over public health, we strongly support a comprehensive investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the possibility of an accidental laboratory leak,” McMorris, joined by Reps. Brett Guthrie and H. Morgan Griffith wrote.

The Republicans requested Blinken release “unclassified documents and declassify other documents for public release, as appropriate, related to the assertion in the Department’s January 15, 2021 Fact Sheet that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in Wuhan, China, collaborated with the Chinese military in conducting classified research, including laboratory animal experiments.”

The fact sheet, released during the Trump administration, claimed that the WIV collaborated on “secret projects” with China’s military, and claims that “despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects within China’s military” since “at least 2017.”

The Republicans noted that WIV “has been a major focus” for the U.S. government and the World Health Organization in their examination of the origins of COVID-19.

“The release of these documents from the Department could help to refute contradictory statements that have been made regarding the possibility of a laboratory leak from the WIV,” they wrote.

The Republicans were referring to comments made by Director of the Center of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the WIV, Dr. Shi Zhengli, who claimed during a seminar at Rutgers University in March, that “all our research work is open, is transparent.”

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Zhengli, at the time, called assertions that the Wuhan lab was involved in the leak of COVID-19 is “not correct.”

Blinken, last month, said the coronavirus “got out of hand faster” because of China, saying Beijing “didn’t do what it needed to do” in the early stages of the pandemic.

“I think China knows that in the early stages of COVID, it didn’t do what it needed to do, which was to, in real time, give access to international experts, in real time to share information, in real time to provide real transparency,” Blinken said.

Meanwhile, in a separate probe, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., penned a letter to Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), demanding further information on the “cause” of the pandemic.

“Understanding the cause of this pandemic – and ensuring that something like it never happens again – is the most important question facing the world today,” Gallagher wrote in a letter Wednesday to Fauci. “Given the stakes, we cannot afford to settle for a limited, blinkered, or politicized understanding of the origin of this terrible disease.” 

And on the other side of the Capitol, Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Mike Braun introduced a bill that would force the Biden administration to declassify intelligence related to COVID-19 origins.

“For over a year, anyone asking questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been branded as a conspiracy theorist,” Hawley said in a statement last month. “The world needs to know if this pandemic was the product of negligence at the Wuhan lab but the CCP has done everything it can to block a credible investigation.”

He added that the “Biden administration must declassify what it knows about the Wuhan lab and Beijing’s attempts to cover up the origin of the pandemic.”

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Braun similarly said that identifying the origins of COVID-19 “is vital for preventing future pandemics, and as investigations and research into the origins of the virus continue, the Biden administration should declassify intelligence related to any potential links between biological research laboratories in Wuhan, China and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The calls for more information come after the White House, last month, said it believes that China has “not been transparent” in releasing its findings on the origins of COVID-19, as part of a report it wrote in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

The report dismissed claims that COVID-19 had escaped from a lab in Wuhan and instead called the theory of zoonotic transmission, or transfer of infection from animals to humans, “likely to very likely.”

The White House said the WHO’s China report lacks crucial information and provides just a “partial, incomplete picture” of the virus’ origin.

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki, last month, called on China and the WHO to allow international experts “unfettered access” to data and to allow them to ask questions of people on the ground at the time of the outbreak. Psaki said that U.S. medical experts are still reviewing the report, but the White House believes it “doesn’t meet the moment.”

The report calls the prospect that the virus transmitted from an animal reservoir to an animal host, followed by subsequent spread within that intermediate host that then transmits it to humans, “likely to very likely.” It calls the idea that the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology “extremely unlikely.”

The report called for further investigation in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.

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Even WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the research team’s assessment on whether coronavirus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident was not “extensive enough.”

And President Biden said last month he had not spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the origins of COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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