Source The Hill

WASHINGTON, U.S.--A report from the staff of the top Republican on the Senate Health Committee strongly suggests the virus that causes COVID-19 was introduced to the world by a lab leak in China, though it offers little new evidence.

The report from the office of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) concludes the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was “most likely the result of a research-related incident” in Wuhan, China.

“The hypothesis of a natural zoonotic origin no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, or the presumption of accuracy,” the report stated

The report cited gaps in previously published scientific research arguing in favor of a “natural” origin from infected animals, as well as safety concerns at the Wuhan lab.

“Critical corroborating evidence of a natural zoonotic spillover is missing. While the absence of evidence is not itself evidence, the lack of corroborating evidence of a zoonotic spillover or spillovers, three years into the pandemic, is highly problematic,” the GOP report stated.

But the staff report stated that the findings lack indisputable evidence and will not settle the issue.

“My ultimate goal with this report is to provide a clearer picture of what we know, so far, about the origins of SARS-CoV-2 so that we can continue to work together to be better prepared to respond to future public health threats,” Burr said in a statement. “I believe this interim report does just that.”

The report relied largely on existing public evidence, rather than new or classified information. It also cited the difficulty in relying on information from China, an issue that’s repeatedly stymied probes from the World Health Organization and U.S. intelligence.

“The lack of transparency from government and public health officials in the PRC with respect to the origins of SARS-CoV-2 prevents reaching a more definitive conclusion,” the report stated.

The report can provide a roadmap for how a Republican-controlled House or Senate will investigate the origins of the virus. The full Senate Health Committee is conducting an investigation, though Burr said the report was released separate from that effort.

The origins of the coronavirus have become intensely politicized, and Biden officials and outside scientists are bracing for a new wave of investigations.

The “lab leak” theory is popular among some Republicans, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who would become chair of the Health Committee next year in a Republican-controlled Senate, has vowed hearings on the issue.

Paul and other Republicans on the committee say Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is withholding important information.

“If Dr. Fauci is truly open minded, as he claims to be, then he will release all texts, emails, communications, and grant records completely and without redactions,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), a member of the Health Committee.

“We owe it to the Americans who have lost their lives to the virus, their families, and those still struggling with the pandemic’s societal and economic consequences, to continue investigating the coronavirus’s origins,” Marshall said.

In the House, Republicans have made it clear that should they take control after the midterm, they want to hold hearings on the lab leak possibility and put Biden officials like Fauci in the hot seat.

Earlier this year, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released their own report concluding the pandemic began with a virus that escaped from the Wuhan lab.

But the Senate GOP report does not insinuate any of the more controversial theories for how the virus was introduced to the world. Contrary to Paul’s questioning of Fauci during numerous hearings, the report does not accuse Fauci or the National Institutes of Health of playing any kind of role in the pandemic’s origins.

In a statement, Senate Health Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the committee’s bipartisan investigation will continue.