3 Wuhan Lab Workers’ 2019 Illness Raises Concerns

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May 24, 2021 — Three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China became sick with a flu-like illness and sought hospital care in November 2019, according to a U.S. intelligence report obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

The report, which was previously undisclosed, will likely add to growing concerns about whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus escaped from the lab, the newspaper reported.

Several researchers at the lab became sick at the end of 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness,” the newspaper reported. Public health officials have expressed concerns about the number of researchers who were sick, the timing of their illnesses, and the fact that they had to seek hospital care for their symptoms, the newspaper reported.

At the same time, officials who are familiar with the U.S. intelligence report expressed various views about the strength of the report’s research to The Wall Street Journal. Some said the supporting evidence was weak, some said it was strong, while others said it was potentially significant and needed more investigation.

Importantly, the report doesn’t explain why the researchers got sick or what their diagnosis was, the newspaper reported. COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses share similar symptoms, though it could be concerning if several members of the same team sought hospital care before the pandemic was identified.

In January, the Trump administration released a fact sheet from the State Department that said several Wuhan researchers were sick, but it didn’t say they were hospitalized. China reported the first COVID-19 case in Wuhan on Dec. 8, 2019, according to CNN.

The Wuhan National Biosafety Lab, which is part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, issued a strong denial of the U.S. intelligence report on Monday, CNN reported.

“I’ve read it. It’s a complete lie,” Yuan Zhiming, PhD, director of the biosafety lab, told Global Times, a state-run news outlet.

“Those claims are groundless,” he said. “The lab has not been aware of this situation, and I don’t even know where such information came from.”

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