Citing a previously undisclosed US intelligence report, the Wall Street Journal reports that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the Covid-19 pandemic.
The timing of the Wuhan staff’s illnesses and their hospital visits could add weight to calls for a broader investigation of whether the Covid-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory, The WSJ reports.
The report came just a day before a meeting of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next stage of the investigation into the origins of Covid-19.
A US National Security Council spokeswoman said she had no comment on the report but said that the Biden administration has “serious questions about the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its origins within the People’s Republic of China.”
She said the US government was working with the WHO and other member states to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic’s origins “that is free from interference or politicisation.”
“We’re not going to make pronouncements that prejudge an ongoing WHO study into the source of SARS-CoV-2, but we’ve been clear that sound and technically credible theories should be thoroughly evaluated by international experts.”
The Wall Street Journal said current and former officials familiar with the intelligence report about the lab researchers expressed a range of views about the strength of the report’s supporting evidence, with one unnamed person saying it needed “further investigation and additional corroboration.”
China’s foreign ministry claimed that a WHO-led team had concluded a lab leak was extremely unlikely after a visit in February to the virology institute.
“The US continues to hype the lab leak theory,” the ministry said in response to a request for comment by the Journal.
“Is it actually concerned about tracing the source or trying to divert attention?”
The Trump administration had said it suspected the virus may have escaped from a Chinese lab. The media and democrats cried it was a conspiracy theory.
A State Department fact sheet released near the end of Trump’s term had said: “The US government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”