Biden okays bill to declassify intelligence info on Covid origins

by IANS |

Washington, March 21 (IANS) US President Joe Biden has signed a bill to declassify intelligence information on the origins of the Covid pandemic, which has so far claimed more than seven million lives globally.

"Today, I am pleased to sign into law, the 'Covid-19 Origin Act of 2023'," Biden said in a statement on Monday.

"We need to get to the bottom of Covid-19's origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics. In implementing this legislation, my administration will declassify and share as much of that information as possible, consistent with my constitutional authority to protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security," he said.

Under the new legislation, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has 90 days to declassify all information on possible links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of Covid.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been a major centre of coronavirus research, CNBC.com reported.

The push to make public classified information on the origins of the pandemic comes after the US Energy Department, last month, concluded with "low confidence" that the Covid-19 virus leaked out of a laboratory in China.

In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also agreed to the lab leak claim with "moderate confidence".

Earlier this month, FBI director Christopher Wray told Fox News that the pandemic likely began with a lab incident in Wuhan, China.

"The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan," Wray was quoted as saying. "Here you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab."

In 2021, Biden had directed the Intelligence Community to use every tool at its disposal to investigate the origin of Covid-19 in 90 days.

In the report, the intel agencies concluded that the coronavirus had not been developed as a biological weapon, but could not determine if it had infected humans as a result of contact with animals or from a laboratory accident.

It added that, without new information, intelligence agencies would not be able to offer a better judgement on whether the virus emerged via animal-to-human transmission or a lab leak.

Biden in his statement said that the "work is ongoing".

"My administration will continue to review all classified information relating to Covid-19's origins, including potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology," he added.

More than two years after the pandemic, the origins of Covid-19 remain unclear.

It has been a political and scientific debate with scientists and politicians globally contending that the coronavirus jumped into people from bats, or have been leaked from a laboratory.

A recent analysis conducted by international scientists found the deadly pandemic may have originated in raccoon dogs from the Wuhan market in China.

They found genetic material from racoon dogs in samples from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market that tested positive for Covid.

While the analysis didn't prove the racoon dogs were infected with the virus, it provides some additional data that is consistent with a possible virus spillover from animals to people.

The study was based on samples from GISAID -- an international database, however, soon after the samples disappeared from that database.

The World Health Organization has called on Beijing to release those samples.

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