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Senate Passes Bill to Declassify Intel on Wuhan Lab, Identify Origin of SARS-CoV-2

Arvind Datta
Arvind is a recluse who prefers staying far away from the limelight as possible. Be that as it may, he keeps a close eye on what's happening and reports on it to keep people rightly informed.
Published: May 30, 2021
Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus make a visit to the institute in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on February 3, 2021. (Image: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The United States Senate has passed a bill seeking the declassification of all intelligence related to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, including details of what occurred at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the lab in China located near the epicenter of the December 2019 outbreak.  

Known as the “COVID-19 Origin Act of 2021,” the bill asks the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to declassify “any and all information” linking WIV to COVID-19 within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.

The DNI should also make available to the public “as much information as possible” regarding SARS-CoV-2 so that United States and like-minded countries can identify the origin of the virus “as expeditiously as possible” and use it to take necessary measures to prevent such a pandemic in the future.

The bill, passed by unanimous consent, was submitted by Republican senators Josh Hawley and Mike Braun.

“They [Americans] deserve to have this government hold accountable that nation which started this virus, whose lies about this virus turned it into a global pandemic, whose lies about this virus prevented our country and many others from being able to address it effectively in time—of course I’m talking about China,” Hawley said at the Senate floor.

Calls for investigation

Last March, Hawley was the first member of Congress to call for an international investigation into China’s cover-up of the viral breakout.

“Americans have been through so much from this virus. President Biden must declassify all U.S. intel related to the Wuhan lab and COVID-19 pandemic, so the American people and independent researchers can get answers,” Braun said in a tweet.

CNN reported that President Joe Biden’s team had shut down a State Department investigation to prove that COVID-19 originated in a lab.

The investigation was cast as a politicized effort by the Trump administration to blame China. The inquiry was terminated after Biden officials were informed about draft findings during the Feb-March period, a State Department spokesperson told the broadcaster.

However, Biden has recently ordered the Intelligence Community (IC) to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information” regarding the origins of COVID-19.

In March, Biden asked the IC to prepare a report on the issue, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal “or from a laboratory accident.” The Intelligence Community “has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question.”

In January 2021, the State Department had released a Fact Sheet on the activity at WIV that highlighted illnesses inside the lab.

This general view shows the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on February 3, 2021, as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, visit. (Image: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

“The U.S. government has reason to believe that 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 seasonal illnesses,” states the fact sheet.

It questioned WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim of having no infection at the lab. In an interview with ScienceMag in July 2020, Shi said that there is “zero infection” among institute staff or students with SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses. She also said that Trump “owes us an apology” for suggesting that COVID-19 was leaked from WIV.

SARS-CoV-2 first appeared in late in 2019, with the earliest cases possibly detected that fall. In late December, Chinese scientists had identified and warned about the virus, but the matter was hushed up by Communist Party authorities. In Wuhan and Hubei, local Party leaders ignored the dangers and insisted on holding large public evets ahead of the Chinese New Year.

The New Year migration, involving billions of passenger trips, spread the virus to all other parts of China, with Wuhan’s central location in the national rail network facilitating the advance of the epidemic.

Only on Jan. 20, 2020, after the novel coronavirus had surfaced in several different countries, did the Party authorities and Chinese leader Xi Jinping admit that the virus was contagious among humans. Three days later, China went into lockdown, with the measures being heaviest in Wuhan and the surrounding province of Hubei.

Wuhan lab involved in synthetic biology and gain-of-function research

In an article published on May 23, the Wall Street Journal cites an undisclosed U.S. intelligence report as confirming that WIV researchers had fallen sick in November 2019 with symptoms of COVID-19 as well as common seasonal illness and sought hospital care. 

The media outlet quoted an anonymous source familiar with the intelligence as saying that “the information that we had coming from the various sources was of exquisite quality. It was very precise. What it didn’t tell you was exactly why they got sick.”

In an interview with Fox News, former State Department official David Asher said that a government probe last year had found almost no evidence that COVID-19 originated in nature. He said that the WIV was “up to some very hairy stuff” related to synthetic biology and gain-of-function techniques.

Gain-of-function (GOF) research describes medical research that alters a disease or an organism in a manner that increases transmissibility, host range, or pathogenesis, which refers to the process by which a disorder or disease develops.

“We were finding that despite the claims of our scientific community, including the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Fauci’s NIAID organization, there was almost no evidence that supported a natural, zoonotic evolution or source of COVID-19,” Asher said.

In March, the former Director of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert Redfield said in an interview with CNN that he believed coronavirus to have escaped from a lab in Wuhan.

At a recent CDC budget hearing, the current director of the organization Dr. Rochelle Walensky admitted that a lab-based origin of the coronavirus pandemic was “one possibility,” as reported by CNBC.