Three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were reportedly hospitalized with an unknown infection in November 2019.
The researchers were hospitalized around the time COVID-19 is believed to have begun circulating in China, according to a United States intelligence report obtained by the Wall Street Journal. The report raises new questions about the origins of the virus, which some researchers, intelligence officials, and politicians believe is likely to have escaped from the WIV.
The Chinese government claims that doctors diagnosed the first COVID-19 infection on Dec. 8, 2019, but reporting from the South China Morning Post suggested that the first infection was really diagnosed on Nov. 17.
A State Department fact sheet released on Jan. 15 claimed that “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak. The symptoms were reportedly consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.” The fact sheet did not provide information about the number of sick researchers, or more exact dates of infection.
Dr. Shi Zhengli, a lead researcher on bat-based coronaviruses at WIV, denies that COVID-19 escaped from her lab, although she previously said that she did “not slept a wink for days” over concerns that it originated with her team.
Dr. Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in April 2020 that Shi’s “denial is not a refutation. Especially not a denial based on ‘nature punishing the human race for keeping uncivilized living habits.’”
Ebright has said that a lab leak introducing COVID-19 into the general population “cannot—and should not—be dismissed.”
That was scenario discussed in your Fox interview
I am pleased to hear you now distinguish between possibility virus was engineered bioweapon (which can be dismissed) and possibility virus entered human population through lab accident (which cannot–and should not–be dismissed)
— Richard H. Ebright (@R_H_Ebright) February 17, 2020
The lab leak theory posits that COVID-19 escaped from WIV, where scientists have conducted gain-of-function research on bat-based coronaviruses. Gain-of-function research entails making viruses more deadly or transmittable, and can have civilian or military uses.
Other supporters of the lab leak theory include former National Security Council China expert Matthew Pottinger, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doctor; Robert Redfield, and Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. (RELATED: Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Wuhan Lab-Leak Theory Is ‘Much More Informed’ Coming From Robert Redfield)
China continues to deny the possibility of a lab leak, claiming instead that COVID-19 originated from the Huanan Seafood Market. Chinese government official have also suggested that COVID-19 could have originated at the Fort Detrick Army base, where the US Army scientists research infectious diseases. That accusation has not been substantiated.
Chinese government officials denied World Health Organization researchers access to raw data from WIV for an investigation. They also edited a final version of the WHO’s report on COVID-19’s origins before it was released.