House Republicans launched an investigation Monday into the origins of COVID-19 by issuing a series of letters to current and former Biden administration officials asking for documents and testimony, the Associated Press reported.
The Republican chairs of the House Oversight Committee and the subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic requested information from several people, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, about the hypothesis that the coronavirus was accidentally leaked from a Chinese lab.
Fauci said in November that he would “cooperate fully and testify” if Republicans followed through with their plans to investigate COVID’s origin.
“This investigation must begin with where and how this virus came about so that we can attempt to predict, prepare or prevent it from happening again,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a Republican from Ohio who is chair of the virus subcommittee, said in a statement.
But in a sign that the investigation may take on partisan tones, Rep. James Comer, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the oversight committee, added that Republicans will “follow the facts” and “hold U.S. government officials that took part in any sort of cover-up accountable.”
Republicans had promised during the 2022 midterm election campaign that they would follow up on their own claims that U.S. intelligence withheld facts about its investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
Wenstrup, a longtime member of the House Intelligence Committee, helped produce a staff report last year that argued that there were “indications” that the virus was developed as a bioweapon inside China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
That would contradict a U.S. intelligence community assessment released in unclassified form in August 2021 that said analysts do not believe the virus was a bioweapon, although it may have been leaked in a lab accident.
Fauci is one of many health experts to back the notion that the virus jumped from animals to humans. But Republicans have accused him of lying to Congress when he denied in May that the National Institutes of Health funded “gain of function” research — the practice of enhancing a virus in a lab to study its potential impact in the real world — at a virology lab in Wuhan. Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, even urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Fauci’s statements.
Fauci, who retired at the end of 2022 after serving as the country’s top infectious-disease expert under both Republican and Democratic presidents, has called the GOP criticism nonsense.
“I have no trouble testifying — we can defend and explain everything that we’ve said,” he told reporters during a White House briefing last year.
The news comes as the seven-day average of new U.S. COVID cases continues to fall. It stood at 38,926 on Monday, according to a New York Times tracker, down 15% from two weeks ago. The daily average for hospitalizations was down 11% to 29,009. The average for deaths was 452, down 11% from two weeks ago.
Coronavirus update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center is planning to end operations on March 10, NPR reported. “It’s bittersweet,” says Lauren Gardner, an engineering professor who launched the project with one of her students on March 3, 2020. “But it’s an appropriate time to move on.” The news comes as daily cases and hospitalizations are steadily declining. President Joe Biden has said he will end the twin emergencies that were declared by the federal government in 2020 to give it extra powers to manage the crisis.
Read now: What happens when COVID-19 emergency declaration ends? Get ready for big changes to your health coverage and medical costs
• Camilla, Britain’s queen consort, has tested positive for COVID after having cold symptoms, Buckingham Palace said Monday, the AP reported. The wife of King Charles III canceled all her engagements this week “and sends her sincere apologies to those who had been due to attend them.”
• The Japanese economy grew at an annual pace of 0.6% in the October-December period, the government reported Tuesday, managing to eke out growth after a contraction in the previous quarter, the AP reported. The world’s third-largest economy has struggled amid restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, a shortage of imported parts from China and rising prices —especially for energy — that have been worsened by inflationary pressures and the war in Ukraine.
Here’s what the numbers say:
The global tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 673.1 million on Tuesday, while the death toll rose above 6.85 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 102.9 million cases and 1,114,694 fatalities.
The CDC’s tracker shows that 229.8 million people living in the U.S., equal to 69.2% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.
So far, just 52.5 million Americans, equal to 15.8% of the overall population, have had the updated COVID booster that targets both the original virus and the omicron variants.