According to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report cited by The Wall Street Journal
on Sunday, three researchers at China
Institute of Virology became ill and had to be hospitalized a month before China reported its first COVID-19
cases in 2019.
Sick researchers were previously mentioned in a Jan. 15 U.S. State Department
fact sheet that did not state whether they had to be hospitalized, only that they became ill in November 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness” and that the Chinese Communist Party prevented them from being interviewed.
later confirmed the details of the intelligence report, citing two people
who were allegedly briefed on the intelligence.
The possibility of seriously ill researchers fuels new speculation about the coronavirus
's origins and timing, with China reporting its first COVID-19 cases to the World Health Organization
in late December 2019.
When asked about the Journal report, White House press secretary Jen Psaki
said the Biden administration
is continuing to press the WHO “to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic
’s origins that is free of interference or politicization.”
“What we can’t do, and what I would caution anyone doing, is jump ahead of an actual international process; we don’t have enough data and information to make a decision at this point,” she said.
Officials and scientists in China have repeatedly denied that the virus originated in a local laboratory, and the intelligence report was dismissed on Monday.
According to Reuters, “the United States
continues to hype up the lab leak theory.” “Does it care about traceability or is it just trying to distract attention?” said foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
The report was also dismissed by the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab, part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“I read it, it’s a complete lie,” Yuan Zhiming told China’s state-run tabloid the Global Times on Monday, dismissing claims about sick researchers. “The lab was not aware of this situation, and I don’t even know where such information came from.”
A spokesperson for the United States National Security Council declined to comment on the intelligence report to Reuters, but stated 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.”
The WHO has been investigating the virus's origins and released the findings of a joint study with China in late March, concluding that the coronavirus originated in a lab was "extremely unlikely." The United States and 13 other countries criticized the report for being delayed and lacking access to complete data.
“Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work
under conditions that result in independent and objective recommendations and findings,” the countries said in a joint statement, calling for “a timely, transparent, evidence-based process.”
In a letter published earlier this month in the journal Science
, more than a dozen scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada
, and Switzerland expressed their dissatisfaction with the study's findings, specifically stating that origin theories "were not given balanced consideration" in the WHO report.
Despite the findings of that report, the WHO has stated that “all hypotheses on the virus’s origin remain open.”
“We have not yet identified the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
said shortly after the report was released.
Dr. Anthony Fauci
, a leading infectious disease expert in the United States, has also stated that he is "not convinced" that the virus evolved naturally.
“I believe that we should continue to investigate what happened in China until we know, to the best of our ability, exactly what happened,” he said earlier this month during a panel discussion with the Poynter Institute. “Certainly, the people who have investigated say that it was likely the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, ” he added.