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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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

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

“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.

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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