Three Wuhan Lab Researchers Sought Hospital Care at Time When Covid-19 Is Thought to Have Emerged

(p. A1) WASHINGTON—Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory.

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 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 disclosure of the number of 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.

Current and former officials familiar with the intelligence (p. 8) about the lab researchers expressed differing views about the strength of the supporting evidence for the assessment. One person said that it was provided by an international partner and was potentially significant but still in need of further investigation and additional corroboration.

Another person described the 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.

November 2019 is roughly when many epidemiologists and virologists believe SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the pandemic, first began circulating around the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where Beijing says that the first confirmed case was a man who fell ill on Dec. 8, 2019.

The Wuhan Institute hasn’t shared raw data, safety logs and lab records on its extensive work with coronaviruses in bats, which many consider the most likely source of the virus.

. . .

The Biden administration declined to comment on the intelligence but said that all technically credible theories on the origin of the pandemic should be investigated by the WHO and international experts.

“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,” said a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

. . .

David Asher, a former U.S. official who led a State Department task force on the origins of the virus for then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, told a Hudson Institute seminar in March that he doubted that the lab researchers became sick because of the ordinary flu.

“I’m very doubtful that three people in highly protected circumstances in a level three laboratory working on coronaviruses would all get sick with influenza that put them in the hospital or in severe conditions all in the same week, and it didn’t have anything to do with the coronavirus,” he said, adding that the researchers’ illness may represent “the first known cluster” of Covid-19 cases.

For the full story, see:

Michael R. Gordon, Warren P. Strobel, and Drew Hinshaw. “Report on Wuhan Lab Fuels Covid-19 Debate.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 24, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 23, 2021, and has the title “Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate On Covid-19 Origin.”)

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