Joe Biden has vowed his administration will “declassify” as much information about the origins of COVID-19 as possible – including any potential links to a Chinese research lab.
Having ordered intelligence agencies including the FBI to investigate where the virus came from in 2021, the US president has now signed legislation that requires any details uncovered to be made public.
“We need to get to the bottom of COVID-19‘s origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics,” he said.
Mr Biden’s bill, which he said would only limit the sharing of any information that “would harm national security”, comfortably passed through both the Senate and House of Representatives.
It comes after FBI director Christopher Wray revealed the agency thought the virus “most likely” came from a Chinese laboratory leak.
He said Beijing – which has consistently rejected that assessment – was “doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate” international efforts to learn more about the pandemic’s origins.
The US Energy Department has also reportedly assessed with low confidence that the pandemic resulted from an unintended lab leak in China.
COVID-19 first emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019, before being declared a pandemic in early 2020, causing countries around the world to go into lockdowns.
Mr Biden said: “My administration will continue to review all classified information relating to COVID-19’s origins, including potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
The World Health Organization’s official position, according to a 2021 report, is that it is “extremely unlikely” the virus came from the Wuhan lab – but did not completely rule it out.
It said the most likely explanation was that the virus originated in a bat before crossing to an intermediary animal and then jumping to humans.
A recent study linked the virus to raccoon dogs at a Wuhan market.