May 24, 2021 – Three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China fell ill with influenza-like illness and sought hospital treatment in November 2019, according to a US intelligence report obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
The report, which has not been disclosed before, will likely add to growing concerns about whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus has escaped from the lab, the newspaper reported.
Several researchers in the lab fell ill at the end of 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness,” the newspaper reported. Public health officials have expressed concerns about the number of sick researchers, when they were ill and whether they had to seek hospital treatment for their symptoms, the newspaper reported.
At the same time, officials familiar with the U.S. intelligence report have expressed varying views on the strength of the report’s research for The Wall Street Journal. Some said the supporting evidence was weak, some said it was strong, while others said it was potentially important and needed further investigation.
Importantly, the report does not explain why the researchers fell ill or what their diagnosis was, the newspaper reported. COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses share similar symptoms, although it could be concerning if multiple members of the same team sought hospital care before the pandemic was identified.
In January, the Trump administration released a State Department fact sheet indicating that several Wuhan researchers were ill, but it did not say they had been hospitalized. China reported the first case of COVID-19 in Wuhan on December 8, 2019, according to CNN.
The Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, on Monday issued a categorical denial of the U.S. intelligence report, CNN reported.
“I read it. This is a complete lie, ”Yuan Zhiming, PhD, director of the biosafety laboratory, told the Global Times, a state media outlet.
“These claims are baseless,” he said. “The lab was not aware of this situation and I don’t even know where this information came from.”
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