Three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China became ill in November 2019 and had coronavirus-like symptoms shortly before the pandemic broke out. This raises doubts about the possible origin of COVID-19 in a laboratory accident.
As recounted on Monday by The Wall Street Journal, citing intelligence sources, a State Department report notes that the Chinese researchers fell ill in the fall of 2019 and needed hospital care.
Their symptoms were “consistent” with COVID-19, according to the report that was written in the last days of Donald Trump’s administration.
The newspaper notes that, until now, WIV hasn’t shared raw data, safety records and laboratory records on its extensive work with coronaviruses in bats, which many consider the most likely source of SARS-CoV-2.
The report revealed by the WSJ hints at the possibility that the coronavirus may have been the result of an accidental leak from WIV. The media outlet consulted with sources familiar with the intelligence report to find out how truthful the State Department document is.
One of the sources was cautious, explaining that the information was provided by “international partner and was potentially significant but still in need of further investigation and additional corroboration.”
Another source said that the information was very accurate and the only thing missing was details of how the investigators were infected: “The information that we had coming from the various sources was of exquisite quality. It was very precise. What it didn’t tell you was exactly why they got sick.”
Towards the origin of COVID?
Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist on the team assembled at the WIV center, told NBC News that several researchers at the institute got sick last fall, but not from COVID-19, but from regular seasonal illnesses, i.e., regular flu.
However, David Asher, a former U.S. official who led a State Department task force on the origins of COVID-19 for former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, explained during a March seminar at the Hudson Institute that he was skeptical about claims that WIV officials came down with the common flu.
“I’m very doubtful that three people in highly protected circumstances in a level three laboratory working on coronaviruses would all get sick with influenza that put them in the hospital or in severe conditions all in the same week, and it didn’t have anything to do with the coronavirus,” Asher said to then hypothesize that these three people may represent “the first known group” of COVID-19 positive cases.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the WIV researchers’ contagion can be traced back to November 2019, a month before the first infected patient announced by Beijing authorities on December 1, 2019.
The revelation about these three infected at WIV comes at a time when the laboratory leak theory is gaining more traction, even with several media retracting after calling it a “conspiracy.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) called the lab leak theory “extremely unlikely” in February. However, many renowned scientists criticized the UN agency’s report for its lack of independence, arguing that Chinese interference hampered investigations within WIV. In March, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for further investigations into the Wuhan lab accident theory.
Several scientific analyses and journalistic works of major media, such as The Washington Post, Fox News or the WSJ, gave strength to the theory that the origin of the pandemic could have come from a laboratory accident at the WIV. Likewise, some twenty scientists signed a letter asking for further and urgent investigations to find out what was the origin of the pandemic.
What China and the United States say
Last Sunday, after being contacted by the WSJ, China’s Foreign Ministry cited the conclusion of the WHO team-led study that said a lab leak was unlikely.
Joe Biden’s administration declined to comment on this intelligence report, according to the WSJ. However, it said all technically credible theories about the origin of the pandemic should be investigated and analyzed by WHO and international experts.
“We continue to have serious questions about the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, including its origins in the People’s Republic of China,” a National Security Council spokeswoman told the newspaper.