US president Joe Biden has signed a bipartisan bill that directs the federal government to declassify as much intelligence as possible about the origins of COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began three years ago, its origin has been the subject of a heated scientific and political debate.
Biden signed the bill on March 20, after it passed the US House and Senate without dissent.
The legislation instructs the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify intelligence related to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
It cites “potential links” between the research that was done there and the outbreak of COVID-19, which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
The law allows for redactions to protect sensitive sources and methods.
US intelligence agencies are divided over whether a lab leak or a spillover from animals is the likely source of the deadly virus.
In 2021, officials released an intelligence report summary that said four members of the US intelligence community believed with “low confidence” that the virus was first transmitted from an animal to a human, and a fifth believed with moderate confidence that the first human infection was linked to a lab.
No intelligence agency has said they believe the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 was released intentionally. The unclassified 2021 summary was clear on this point, saying: “We judge the virus was not developed as a biological weapon”.
While some scientists are open to the lab-leak theory, others continue to believe the virus came from animals, mutated, and jumped into people – as has happened in the past with viruses.
Experts say the true origin of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed millions of people around the globe, may not be known for many years – if ever.
In a statement, 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.
“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”.