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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Adam Gabbatt in New York

White House to disband Covid response team in May, reports say

The White House Covid response coordinator, Ashish Jha, in the press briefing room in December 2022.
The White House Covid response coordinator, Ashish Jha, in the press briefing room in December 2022. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The White House plans to disband its Covid response team in May, according to reports, with some staff members having already departed as the coronavirus public health emergency designation is due to expire.

The Washington Post reported that Ashish Jha, Joe Biden’s Covid response coordinator, is likely to leave the administration once the team is dissolved, as the president seeks to move forward from a pandemic which has killed more than 1.1 million in the US.

The Covid national and public health emergencies are set to end on 11 May, bringing to a close some of the benefits to which Americans have been entitled since the pandemic began, including free coronavirus testing and treatment.

The disbandment of the White House Covid response team comes as Republicans in Congress have launched multiple investigations into the origins of the virus.

Republican members of the Congress have pushed theories that the virus came from a lab leak in China, while the stacking a coronavirus House committee with representatives who have a history of spreading misinformation about Covid.

“As a result of this administration’s historic response to Covid, we as a nation are in a safer, better place than we were three years ago,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post.

“Covid no longer disrupts our lives because of investments and our efforts to mitigate its worst impacts. Covid is not over, fighting it remains an administration priority, and transitioning out of the emergency phase is the natural evolution of the Covid response.”

On Monday Biden signed into law a bill which requires the release of intelligence on potential links between the outbreak of Covid and a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

“We need to get to the bottom of Covid-19’s origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics,” 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.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the US Department of Energy had determined the coronavirus most likely leaked by accident from the Chinese laboratory. Other sources say there is no evidence to support that theory. The Department of Energy said it had “low confidence” in its own assessment.

After news of the determination emerged, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said there were a “variety of views” within US intelligence agencies on the issue.

Studies from experts around the world have concluded that Covid most likely originated from an animal market in Wuhan.

That has not deterred Republicans in Congress, who have used the energy department assessment to continue to push the lab leak theory, and whose subcommittee to investigate the origins of the virus appears to be heavily politicised.

The subcommittee includes Marjorie Taylor Greene, the hard-right conspiracy theory enthusiast from Georgia, who has claimed Covid is a “bioweapon” released by China. In January 2022, Greene’s Twitter account was permanently suspended after she repeatedly violated policies on coronavirus misinformation.

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