US House backs bill calling for intelligence information on the origins of COVID-19 to be declassified
The US House of Representatives has voted unanimously to declassify intelligence information about the origins of COVID-19, a sweeping show of bipartisan support near the third anniversary of the start of the deadly pandemic.
- The bill now goes to US President Joe Biden to either sign into law or veto
- The US Energy Department reportedly concluded a laboratory leak likely triggered the pandemic
- Four other US agencies say it was likely the result of natural transmission
The 419 to 0 vote in favour of declassification increases pressure on US President Joe Biden’s administration to allow the information’s release.
The bill, which the US Senate passed by unanimous consent on March 1, now goes to the White House for Mr Biden to sign into law or veto.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his intentions.
Washington has been conducting a highly politicised debate about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic almost since the first human cases were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, amid calls from both Democrats and Republicans to push back harder against a rising China.
The debate was refuelled last month, when the Wall Street Journal first reported that the US Energy Department had concluded the pandemic likely arose from a Chinese laboratory leak, an assessment Beijing denies.
The department made its judgement with “low confidence” in a classified intelligence report, the newspaper said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations has also assessed that a laboratory leak likely triggered the pandemic.
Four other US agencies still judge that COVID-19 was likely the result of natural transmission, while two are undecided.
Officials from Mr Biden’s administration have said the pandemic’s origins may never be known.
China said claims that a laboratory leak likely caused the pandemic had no credibility.
“The American people need to know all the aspects, including how this virus was created and [how] specifically was the natural occurrence the result of a lab-related event?” Mike Turner, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said as he urged support for the measure.
Jim Himes, the panel’s top Democrat congressman, called the bill an important first step.
“I hope it will clear up some of the speculation, some of the rumours that are out there,” he said.
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