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House Republicans press for answers to origins of COVID-19

House Republicans took aim at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology Today in a hearing Tuesday to investigate the origins of COVID-19.

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“The evidence continues to mount that this was a man-made disaster that started in the Wuhan lab,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, in his opening remarks. “If that is the case, then it might be considered dramatically worse than Chernobyl.” 

The select subcommittee’s panel included testimony from four public-health professionals who contend that evidence points to the virus originating from the lab, rather than through naturally occurring infectious disease transmission.

Dr. Brett Giroir, a former Health and Human Services official who oversaw the COVID-19 testing program under the Trump administration, said he assesses that the virus most likely originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after the WHO failed to pinpoint a specific natural origin in a March report.

He said overwhelming evidence now points to a lab leak, citing the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s gain-of-function research on coronaviruses, among other evidence.

“It is essential that Congress provides leadership for a comprehensive, transparent and unbiased investigation to determine one, the most likely origin of the virus; two, whether the [National Institutes of Health] funded directly or indirectly, or approved of explicitly or tacitly potentially dangerous research within the Wuhan lab; and three, what the U.S. can do to minimize the possibility of future pandemics and enable rapid global containment of any suspicious infectious outbreak,” he said.

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Mr. Scalise said several other witnesses were invited but did not accept, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Without bipartisan support, the Subcommittee does not have subpoena power. 

The inquiry comes well over a year since the first cases of the virus were confirmed, and were determined to have most likely emerged from nature.

In late March, the World Health Organization reported that the virus most likely originated in bats before being transmitted to humans via a yet-to-be-determined intermediary host, and that a laboratory origin was unlikely. Many were critical of the report and the WHO, citing China’s lack of transparency and challenging the impartiality of the report.

In April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated the U.S. Intelligence Community agreed with the consensus at the time that the virus was “not manmade or genetically modified,” and vowed to continue to determine whether the virus originated through natural transmission or “if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

But questions into the origin and calls for further transparency have grown in recent weeks.

In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that three Wuhan lab employees sought care for COVID-like symptoms in November of 2020.

Days later, the White House pressed for further investigation into the origins after receiving an inconclusive report by the Intelligence Community on the matter, escalating international pressure on China for transparency.

“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” President Biden said in a statement announcing the investigation.

Mr. Scalise argues that the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress have not done enough to hold China accountable and to press for inquiry into the origins.

Last week, House Republicans stepped up their efforts in holding China accountable and pressuring President Biden and congressional Democrats to take action, touting an eight-point plan that included declassifying intelligence related to the origins of the virus and hitting China with visa restrictions, sanctions, and other measures.

“The evidence is very clear,” House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York said last week. “China lied and Americans died. We want justice for the American people, transparency for the American people, and accountability for the more than 600,000 Americans who lost their lives from the COVID-19 virus.”

The session on Tuesday was a continuation of that effort, which Republicans say has received little support from Democrats.

“We have asked that question for more than a year and requested that the House majority hold hearings to investigate the origins of COVID,” Mr. Scalise said. “Perplexingly, Speaker Pelosi has refused to allow a single hearing – calling it a ‘diversion.’ As the American people will hear today from our expert witnesses, this is far from a diversion.”

In addition to Dr. Giroir, the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing were Dr. David Asher, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who led the State Department’s investigation into the virus’ origins; Richard Muller, physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and researcher, and Dr. Steven Quay, founder of Atossa Therapeutics and researcher.

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