Your Thursday Briefing: Covid Origins Hearing Opens in the U.S.

Did a lab leak cause Covid?

U.S. lawmakers opened hearings yesterday into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. The hearing, which quickly became politically charged, underscored how difficult it may be to ascertain the origins of Covid-19.

Republicans on the House panel investigating the pandemic’s origins made an aggressive case that the virus may have been the result of a laboratory leak. The lab-leak hypothesis recently gained a boost after new intelligence led the Energy Department to conclude, albeit with low confidence, that a leak was the most likely cause.

The first public hearing came as the debate intensifies about one of the great unsolved mysteries of the pandemic. The committee is made up of seven Democrats and nine Republicans, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is known for her embrace of conspiracy theories.

Here’s what we know, and don’t know, about the origins of the pandemic.

Two theories: The lab-leak hypothesis centers largely around the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which studied coronaviruses. But some scientists say the virus most likely jumped from animals to humans at a market in Wuhan, China.

Stakes: A lab-leak consensus could further roil U.S.-China relations.

Related: Starting tomorrow, the U.S. will no longer require a negative test for travelers from China.

Protesters in Georgia chant ‘No to the Russian law’

Thousands of demonstrators marched toward Georgia’s Parliament yesterday, a day after a bill on “foreign agents” passed first reading. Critics say the measure would replicate legislation in Russia that has been used to restrict civil society.

Last night, a group of protesters tried to storm the government building, but were repelled by police officers who used water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas. On Tuesday, riot police officers had also used tear gas and water cannons to disperse a large rally in Tbilisi. Waving Georgian and European flags, the protesters chanted, “No to the Russian law!” as they walked down the main avenue in Tbilisi.

The country’s pro-Western opposition sees the bill as following the model of Russian legislation passed in 2012, pushing the country closer to Moscow and highlighting democratic backsliding. Under the measure, nongovernmental groups and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from a “foreign power” would be required to register as “agents of foreign influence.”

What’s next: The bill, backed by the governing Georgian Dream party and the prime minister, was expected to be approved. The president said she would veto it, but the governing party has enough votes to override the veto.

India arms Kashmir villagers

The Indian government has started reviving local militias in the Muslim-majority region after a series of deadly attacks on Hindus. The strategy casts doubt on the government’s claims that the region is enjoying peace and prosperity, nearly four years after India revoked its semiautonomous status.

Over the past several months, there have been repeated attacks on civilians in the Jammu part of Kashmir, one of the world’s most militarized places. Many of the region’s Hindus, who fled violence in the 1990s, again feel under threat. Large numbers have left the valley or gathered for protests to implore the government to move them to safer places.

India first created local militias in Jammu in the 1990s, at the militancy’s peak. Now, many have again been enlisted to provide their own protection, albeit with limited training and unsophisticated weapons.

Religious tensions: Local Muslim leaders said that only Hindu groups had been armed. Security officials justified that decision by saying that the recent attacks had targeted only Hindus.


Around the World

President Biden will unveil his budget proposals today. They are expected to feature tax increases on corporations and high earners.

More than 100,000 WhatsApp messages show British government officials scrambling to formulate policies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Protests have erupted in more than a dozen cities across Iran over the suspected poisoning of thousands of schoolgirls.

The War in Ukraine

The Pentagon is blocking the U.S. from sharing evidence on Russian atrocities with the International Criminal Court, officials said.

Russia lacks the ammunition and troops to make major gains in Ukraine this year and could shift to a hold-and-defend strategy, Avril Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said.

South Korea said that it had given Poland approval to send howitzers that used South Korean components to Ukraine.

The founder of the Russian private military company Wagner claimed that his forces had taken the eastern part of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

Other Big Stories

Greece’s new transport minister said that last week’s fatal train crash “most likely would not have happened” if the rail system had been upgraded as planned.

Adidas is still deciding what to do with nearly $1.3 billion worth of sneakers and sportswear from Kanye West’s Yeezy brand.

Elon Musk apologized after mocking a disabled employee of Twitter.

Science Times

As countries plan lunar missions, the European Space Agency says that creating a moon time zone may simplify coordination.

A team of scientists announced a breakthrough in superconductors for electricity, but faces some skepticism because a previous discovery was retracted.

A Morning Read

Nepal will ban international tourists from hiking alone in its national parks. The tourism board noted that deadly incidents involving solo trekkers had spread the misperception that the country was unsafe.

Some criticized the new rules. “I’m an advanced trekker,” said one would-be solo hiker. “I don’t need a nanny.”

Lives lived: Georgina Beyer, who is widely believed to have been the world’s first openly transgender member of Parliament, fought for the rights of sex workers, L.G.B.T.Q. and Maori people in New Zealand. She died at 65.


For Afghan women, losses mount

The Taliban’s takeover ended decades of war in Afghanistan. Many women have since watched 20 years of gains made under Western occupation unravel under the new government. Afghanistan is now one of the most restrictive countries for women, according to rights monitors.

The Times photographed and interviewed dozens of Afghan women about how their lives have changed.

“There is no income, no job opportunities for me,” said Zulaikha, 25, who went into hiding after the Taliban seized power. “I don’t know how I’m going to survive.”

“Those of us in grade 12 are standing above a ditch,” said Parissa, 19, a former university student. “You don’t know if you should jump over or throw yourself into the ditch.”


What to Cook

For muffins that stay moist and fresh longer, put mashed blueberries in your batter.

What to Read

“You Are Here: Connecting Flights” links 12 stories by Asian American authors that deal with racism, cultural expectations and adolescent insecurities.

What to Watch

“Therapy Dogs,” made by two high schoolers, is a bracing portrait of one class’s senior year.


Tommy Kha’s portraits blend his Asian heritage with the mythology of the American South.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Dog doc (three letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. My colleague Hannah Dreier won the March Sidney Award for uncovering the growth of migrant child labor throughout the U.S.

“The Daily” is on a Times investigation into attacks against the Nord Stream pipelines.

We welcome your feedback. Please write to me at [email protected].

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