Three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were sick enough to seek hospital care in November 2019, according to intelligence that could fuel the theory that the coronavirus escaped from the Chinese lab, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The unspecified intelligence report echoes a State Department fact sheet issued last year that said that several researchers at the lab became sick in fall 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness” but the report did not mention why the researchers were sick.
Officials familiar with the report “expressed differing views about the strength of the supporting evidence for the assessment.” One official told the outlet that is was supplied by an “international partner” but needed further investigation and additional corroboration.
Officials believe the coronavirus first began to circulate around Wuhan in November 2019. The first confirmed case of the virus was on December 8, 2019.
The Wuhan lab has not shared data with outside organizations.
China has repeatedly denied the theory that the virus escaped from the lab.
“The U.S. continues to hype the lab leak theory,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told the Journal. “Is it actually concerned about tracing the source or trying to divert attention?”
The Biden administration has said it is leaving all credible theories on the table.
“We continue to have serious questions about the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its origins within the People’s Republic of China,” a National Security Council spokesperson told the outlet. “We’re not going to make pronouncements that prejudge an ongoing WHO study into the source of SARS-CoV-2. As a matter of policy we never comment on intelligence issues.”
Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who on a World Health Organization-led team that traveled to Wuhan to investigate earlier this year, told NBC News back in March that some researchers got sick in fall of 2019 but they were not believed to be infected with the virus.
“There were occasional illnesses because that’s normal. There was nothing that stood out,” she said. “Maybe one or two. It’s certainly not a big, big thing.”
The Journal noted that it “isn’t unusual for people in China to go straight to the hospital when they fall sick, either because they get better care there or lack access to a general practitioner.”