Three researchers at a Chinese lab that has been scrutinized as the possible origin point of the coronavirus pandemic went to the hospital due to an illness in November 2019, according to a new report.
The Wall Street Journal, which cited current and former US officials, reported that the intelligence gathered by “an international partner” expands on a State Department document confirming that workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill with symptoms “consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness” in fall 2019.
The officials were split on the strength of the intelligence, with one telling the Journal it needed more corroboration and another saying it was “of exquisite quality” and “very precise.” Both agreed that the intelligence stopped short of confirming the researchers had contracted coronavirus.
Many health experts believed that the coronavirus began circulating in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in November 2019. Authorities in Beijing date the first confirmed case to Dec. 8 of that year.
The theory that the coronavirus accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology into the wider population has gained credence as a viable explanation in recent weeks, following a World Health Organization-led investigation and report — compiled with the help of the Chinese government — that left many other nations dissatisfied.
China has contributed to the suspicion, with the lab not releasing records related to its work on coronaviruses in bats. Meanwhile, Beijing has pushed a series of wild theories, including that the coronavirus spread through imported frozen food packaging and originated at a biomedical research facility at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
Earlier this month, a group of top scientists from around the globe pushed back on the WHO’s conclusion that a lab-leak is “extremely unlikely” — arguing in the journal Science that theory is “viable” and deserves “a proper investigation.”
Meanwhile, Republicans are pressing federal health officials to detail what the Wuhan Institute of Virology did with grant money from the National Institutes of Health NIH.
On Friday, six GOP senators and one congressman signed a letter to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins requesting details about a 2014 moratorium on funding so-called “gain of function research” — in which viruses are manipulated in a lab environment to become more transmissible and harmful. The letter also requested more information about the lifting of the moratorium in late 2017 and whether programs and researchers linked to the Wuhan lab were granted exceptions.
White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly denied that the NIH funded gain of function research in Wuhan, but Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) accused Fauci of playing “word games” Sunday.
“The money that the NIH gave went to an American organization which turned around and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to these Wuhan labs to investigate coronaviruses and yes, to find ways to make them more contagious and more dangerous,” Cotton told Fox Business Network’s “Sunday Morning Futures”.
“I think that there could be an example here of these public health bureaucrats thinking they know better, that they’re not going to answer to political oversight and accountability … and they went ahead with this research that could be very dangerous,” Cotton added. “That’s why it is imperative that the NIH come clean and tell us exactly what happened.”