The United States Senate has enacted legislation directing National Intelligence Director Avril Haines to declassify all material pertaining to suspected linkages between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the beginnings of the coronavirus outbreak.
The bill, S. 1867, passed the Senate on Wednesday night, and will go to the House for consideration.
If enacted, the bill gives the national intelligence agency 90 days to declassify all information it has linking the pandemic to the virology laboratory located in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus first emerged in late 2019 before infecting the world over, killing millions of people.
The bill focuses on a State Department notice published on Jan. 15 that states it has reason to believe “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common illnesses.”
Among the information to be declassified if the bill becomes law are the activities performed at the lab and identifying information about the researchers who fell ill.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who introduced the bill with Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., in April, told lawmakers from the Senate floor before the passing of the bill that the public should know the truth about the coronavirus pandemic.
“The American people deserve to know about the origins of COVID-19,” he said. “They deserve to know how this terrible pandemic that has ravaged the globe and our country, how it got started, what China’s role was in starting it.”
Hawley, who has proposed several bills and issued several statements against China amid the pandemic, told lawmakers there is growing scrutiny of the Wuhan laboratory in connection to the start of the pandemic, and that declassifying the information will allow the American people to make up their own minds on the matter.
“It’s time they actually got to see the evidence that the United States government has collected on this issue,” he said.
Braun added that they need “to get to the bottom” of the virus’ origins.
“Who disagrees with transparency?” he asked.
The bill was passed hours after President Joe Biden asked U.S. intelligence agencies to double their efforts to find the origins of the pandemic with the U.S. intelligence community having “coalesced” around two scenarios: that the virus transferred to humans from another infected animal or “a laboratory accident.”
The heightened attention into what was labeled a conspiracy theory regarding the virus’s origins followed a study issued in March by a panel of WHO specialists who stated that the virus most likely infected humans from another animal while dismissing the likelihood of it having originated in the lab as “extremely unlikely.”
The WHO team arrived in Wuhan more than a year after the virus first emerged, and after months of pushback and delays from China, which had claimed that such study was unnecessary.
Following the publication of the paper, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that China suppressed data from the researchers. He stated that he did not believe the study was “was extensive enough.” Fourteen countries, including the United States, have also urged China to be open and provide full access to information.
Earlier this month, 18 scientists published a letter in the journal Science calling for another investigation as there wasn’t enough information to rule out the possibility that the virus did not escape from the lab.
“Only four pages of the 313 pages of the [WHO] report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident,” they said. “Notably, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus commented that the report’s consideration of evidence supporting a laboratory accident was insufficient and offered to provide additional resources to fully evaluate the possibility.”
On Tuesday, Xavier Becerra, U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, urged the World Health Assembly to conduct a second study of the virus’ origins.
Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters Wednesday that China had led the investigation into the origins producing an “authoritative study report” that contained “significant conclusions” and those in the United States raising concerns over it were acting out of political manipulation.
“Every time when the issue of pandemic is brought up, they smear and attack China while totally ignoring the doubts over the origin-tracing work and failure of pandemic response in the U.S.,” he said. “They are obsessed with spreading ‘lab leak theory’ and other conspiracy theories and disinformation.”