A new report says three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China were so sick in November 2019 that they required hospitalization.
The report Sunday in The Wall Street Journal said it was based upon “a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report.”
Although the report said there was no consensus about the veracity of evidence underlying the assessment among “[c]urrent and former officials familiar with the intelligence,” one was quoted as saying, “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.”
The month in question is when experts believe the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan. The first documented case of a person getting the virus took place on Dec. 8, 2019.
Chinese officials trashed the new report. According to CNN, Yuan Zhiming, director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab, a part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said on Monday, “I’ve read it, it’s a complete lie.”
“Those claims are groundless,” he said. “The lab has not been aware of this situation, and I don’t even know where such information came from.”
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said the U.S. was “hyping up the lab leak theory.”
“Through field visits and in-depth visits in China, the experts unanimously agreed that the allegation of lab leaking is extremely unlikely,” Zhao said.
A State Department fact sheet issued in the final days of the Trump administration had indicated that the researchers’ illness should be a point of investigation.
“The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses. This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses,” the Jan. 15 fact sheet said.
“The CCP has prevented independent journalists, investigators, and global health authorities from interviewing researchers at the WIV, including those who were ill in the fall of 2019. Any credible inquiry into the origin of the virus must include interviews with these researchers and a full accounting of their previously unreported illness,” the fact sheet said.
Although the Biden White House sidestepped comment for The Wall Street Journal’s report, the National Security Council said in a statement, “We continue to have serious questions about the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its origins within the People’s Republic of China.”
David Asher, who led a Trump-era State Department task force on the origins of the virus, said he doubted the researchers who were sick had some pedestrian illness.
“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,” he said.
The trio of illnesses, he said, might be “the first known cluster” of COVID-19 cases.
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