Republican lawmakers on Friday demanded Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas provide information on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether evidence exists that the outbreak came from a Chinese laboratory.
In a letter to Mr. Mayorkas, House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans requested a series of classified briefings as part of a probe into the origins of the pandemic blamed for more than 580,000 deaths in the U.S.
“As Republican leaders of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the congressional committee with jurisdiction over public health, we strongly support a comprehensive investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the possibility of an accidental laboratory leak,” the lawmakers wrote.
They requested briefings from the National Bioforensic Analysis Center and the National Biological Threat Characterization Center. Both agencies, which are overseen by DHS, study the makeup, origin and distribution of biological weapons.
The two centers, lawmakers believe, have “conducted work that would be useful to advancing an investigation into the origins of COVID-19” that has not been made public.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
The COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world economy in 2020 and is blamed for more than 3.4 million deaths worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee have separately called for the Biden administration to start an investigation into the coronavirus outbreak.
Chinese health officials detected the new coronavirus virus in November 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of the country’s Hubei province. Beijing officially reported the virus to the World Health Organization in December of that year. According to global health officials, the lag gave the outbreak time to spread and severely undercut the ability to impose quarantine measures.
Although the origins of the virus are still not clear, evidence indicates a laboratory accident at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology cannot be ruled out. The theory, which once was lambasted by Democrats as “xenophobic,” has recently gained traction in the public health community.
Last week, nearly 20 of the nation’s leading scientists published a letter in the academic journal Science calling for further investigation into the origins of the virus.
“Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover [meaning transmitted from animals to humans] both remain viable,” the scientists wrote.
China denies the virus leaked from its facility in Wuhan.
A March report from a team of international virus experts failed to pinpoint the origin of the coronavirus during a visit to China. But the head of the World Health Organization, which assembled the team, criticized authorities in China for limiting access to investigators and questioned the WHO team’s dismissal of the laboratory origin theory.
“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough …,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”
Even if the virus was not the product of a biological threat program, concerns persist that it may have leaked through inadequate safety protocols in Wuhan.
Dr. Roger Klein, a pathologist by training who has studied viruses similar to COVID-19 at the Cleveland Clinic, said that proper investigation into the outbreak was needed to both understand why the pandemic came about and how to prevent future ones.
“What’s disturbing to me are the reports of inadequate safety practices in the Wuhan lab before the outbreak,” Dr. Klein said. “Again, we do not know if it leaked, but there has not been a sufficient and transparent investigation into the matter.”
Bill Gertz contributed to this report.