House Republicans highlight Covid lab leak theories at virus origin hearing

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday questioned a panel of scientists about the origins of the Covid pandemic, advancing the theory that the virus likely came from a lab leak at a research facility in Wuhan, China, while acknowledging there was no conclusive evidence of argue how the virus originated.

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, who was among three witnesses called by Republicans to the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, reiterated his belief that the virus likely originated in the Chinese lab based on structure and its past. It’s a claim Redfield has made in the past publicly.

“Based on my initial analysis of the data, I believed, and still believe today, that it shows that Covid-19 was more likely the result of an accidental laboratory leak than the result of natural diffusion,” Redfield told the committee. . “This conclusion is based primarily on the biology of the virus itself.”

The debate over the origin of the virus has been renewed following recent reports on the estimates of various federal agencies. FBI Director Chris Wray said in an interview with Fox News last month that the FBI believes Covid likely came from a “potential laboratory incident” in Wuhan, but that the Chinese government has blocked the ongoing investigation. The US Department of Energy concluded with “low confidence” that the Covid pandemic “likely” originated from a lab leak in Wuhan, according to a classified report delivered to key lawmakers in January on the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

President Joe Biden has asked intelligence officials in 2021 to redouble efforts to uncover the origin of the virus. In a report issued later that year, at least one US intelligence agency concluded that the Covid-19 virus could have emerged from a laboratory accident in Wuhan, but the US intelligence community remains divided over its origin. virus and the report said the agencies are unlikely to be able to provide a more definitive explanation without significant new information.

“I would really like this thing to be from nature. I would love that, it would be better for all of us,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who chairs the pandemic subcommittee. “But I can’t help but look at it and say there’s another possibility here.”

Democrats and Republicans on the committee appeared to agree that it was important to understand how the virus originated and that further research into the matter is needed, though they differed on how to go about it.

“It seems like the minds on the other side of the aisle are closed and they’re designed for the origin and they’ve chosen their villain,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. “If we really want to follow the evidence, the truth is that the evidence as we have it now is not conclusive.”

Redfield accused top public health officials, including the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, of suppressing the debate surrounding the origin of the virus in the early months of the pandemic and instead promoting the theory that the virus had evolved in nature, making a leap from animals to humans.

“When you have a group of people who decide there can only be one point of view, that’s problematic,” Redfield said. “And I’m going to keep saying it’s against the science, and unfortunately, that’s what they did.”

Republicans on the committee appeared to buy into that criticism with committee members accusing Fauci of pushing for the publication of a research paper promoting the theory that the virus evolved naturally and of keeping Redfield out of key discussions because of his support for the theory. laboratory leak.

Fauci said he believes the evidence shows the virus likely came from nature, but that all theories should be investigated and he is open to the possibility of a lab leak.

Along with Redfield, the committee also heard testimony from an infectious disease researcher and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. and Nicholas Wade, former editor of Nature and Science magazines.

Democrats on the committee tried to shift the conversation to questions about the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, highlighting comments by then-President Donald Trump praising China at the start of the pandemic.

The House is expected to vote on legislation this week to declassify all information related to the origin of Covid.

With Republicans now holding a majority in the House, they are expected to continue holding hearings on the pandemic. Last month, a separate committee held a hearing on the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, focusing on vaccine mandates and mask recommendations.

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