Report: Wuhan lab staff sought hospital care before COVID-19 outbreak disclosed
Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the COVID-19 pandemic, The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported in late May 2021, citing a previously undisclosed United States intelligence report.
The Journal said the report — which provides fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses and their hospital visits — appeared to add weight to calls for a broader probe of whether the COVID-19 virus escaped from the laboratory.
U.S. President Joe Biden asked U.S. intelligence agencies several days after the report was released to “redouble their efforts” to determine the origin of the coronavirus and to report back to him in 90 days on their results, The New York Times newspaper reported.
In a statement, President Biden called for a broad government report to incorporate findings from U.S. labs and agencies on whether the virus was accidentally leaked from a lab or spread to humans from animals. His request came as leading health officials demanded a more thorough probe of the origin of the virus amid growing criticism over the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) general dismissal of the possibility of a leak, The New York Times reported.
The Journal report came on the eve of a meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body, which was expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
A U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman said the U.S. government was working with the WHO and other member states to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic’s origins “that is free from interference or politicization.”
Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and other countries in March 2021 expressed concern about the WHO-led study and called for further investigation and full access to all pertinent human, animal and other data relating to the early stages of the outbreak. (Pictured: Security personnel guard the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China.)
In response to the Journal’s report, China’s Foreign Ministry noted that a WHO-led team concluded that a lab leak was extremely unlikely after it visited the virology institute in February 2021.
According to a U.S. State Department fact sheet released near the end of President Donald Trump’s administration, the U.S. government had reason to believe that an unspecified number of researchers at the Wuhan institute “became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
Chinese health authorities refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to the WHO-led team, according to one of the team’s investigators, potentially complicating efforts to understand how the outbreak began.
IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS