Wuhan lab's researchers sought hospital care before Covid: Report

Wuhan labs researchers sought hospital care before Covid: Report

Beijing/Washington DC: Three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, weeks before Beijing disclosed the COVID-19 pandemic, a US media report said, citing a previously undisclosed American intelligence document that could add weight to growing calls for a full scale probe of whether the Coronavirus may have escaped from China's top bio lab.

The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the Wuhan lab, a center for the study of Coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 "with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness," the Wall Street Journal reported. The origins of the COVID-19 remain a widely debated topic, with some scientists and politicians maintaining that the possibility of a lab leak of the deadly virus exists. The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is near the outbreak's known epicentre of Huanan Seafood Market in central China's Wuhan city, where the virus first emerged in late 2019 and became a pandemic.

Former US president Donald Trump was among those who supported the theory that the virus might have escaped from a bio lab in China.

"Three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, the paper said.

The disclosure of the number of Chinese researchers, the timing of their illnesses and their hospital visits come on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organization's decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into Covid-19's origins. The paper said that current and former officials familiar with the intelligence about the lab researchers expressed differing views about the strength of the supporting evidence, with one person saying it was provided by an international partner and was potentially significant but still in need of further investigation and additional corroboration.

Another person described intelligence as stronger. 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, he said, referring to the researchers.

China, however, denied the WSJ report on Monday, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying the WIV released a statement on March 23 that made it clear that there were zero COVID-19 infections at the institute.

"The report that you mentioned about three people getting sick, that is not true," Zhao said.

To this date none of the WIV's staff and graduate students have been affected with the virus, he said.

Zhao sought to refute the WSJ report citing the observations of the joint expert group of China and the World Health Organisation (WHO) who visited Wuhan, that it is extremely unlikely Coronavirus has escaped from the bio lab.

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