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Republican legislators eye punishments abroad following FBI, DOE determinations of COVID-19 lab leak origins

Moving quickly in the wake of new determinations about the potential origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA) last week introduced legislation to punish foreign countries found to conduct chemical and biological experiments that threaten public health and global security.

Much of the U.S. Intelligence community had concluded otherwise since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently determined that the virus may have originated from a Chinese virology lab. Each made their conclusions based on different analyses, and the DOE’s assessment came with low confidence, while the FBI made its revelations with moderate confidence, with FBI Director Christopher Wray noting that the investigation was still ongoing.

Following the FBI and DOE announcements, Feenstra introduced the Holding Countries Accountable for Negligent Chemical and Biological Programs Act, which would amend the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination (CBW) Act of 1991. This would allow for sanctions to be slapped on foreign nations found to operate chemical and biological programs with gross negligence and expand sanctions to countries that handle these hazardous programs carelessly.

“As Republicans have correctly articulated for the last three years, the COVID-19 virus originated in a Chinese virology lab in Wuhan, causing nearly 7 million deaths,” Feenstra said. “Foreign countries – especially China – that weaponize their experimental chemical and biological programs against public health and global security must be held accountable for their crimes. In light of assessments by the Department of Energy and the FBI that the COVID-19 virus leaked from a Chinese lab, I am proud to introduce legislation that will impose ruinous sanctions on our enemies for conducting negligent chemical experiments and spearheading other careless biological programs. It’s shameful that China unleashed the worst pandemic in more than a century on the American people and the world while stonewalling investigations into its origins. My bill will finally make the CCP pay a significant price.”

While the Republican party have floated the virology lab theory for years, no conclusive evidence ever emerged to that end. At the same time, China slowed or blocked data and investigations into the early days of the pandemic.