What Wuhan scientists’ symptoms could tell us about COVID origins

Lab staff suffered from COVID-like illness even before official start of the pandemic, says US report; China makes stout denial

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According to China’s disclosure to the WHO, COVID-like symptoms were detected for the first time in Wuhan on December 8, 2019.

China has constantly sought to distance itself from the COVID onslaught, insisting that the pandemic did not originate in its territory, be it in a lab or its famous wet market in Wuhan.

However, citing a US intelligence report, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has disclosed that a trio of researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) had sought treatment in a hospital in November 2019 for COVID-like symptoms, before the virus was even identified.

It may be recalled that according to China’s disclosure to the WHO, COVID-like (even before the virus was so named) symptoms were detected for the first time in Wuhan on December 8, 2019. The latest report is seen to negate China’s claim, and lend credence to the theory that the virus originated in the Wuhan lab.

WHO probe

According to a Reuters report, the WHO is set to discuss a probe into the origin of COVID. Ahead of this, the US intelligence report — which is being disclosed for the first time — has come up with pointers that may lead to more calls for a probe into a suspected laboratory origin of the virus. The report includes details how many researchers were affected, when, and their course of treatment.

The WSJ report quoted a US National Security Council spokeswoman as saying the Joe Biden administration continues to have “serious questions about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its origins within the People’s Republic of China.” It is working in tandem with the WHO for an evaluation of the pandemic’s origins, she said, adding that it will be handled by a panel of experts.

China’s denial

On Monday, the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab, part of the WIV, flat out denied the WSJ report. “I’ve read it, it’s a complete lie,” Yuan Zhiming, Director of the Lab, reportedly told state-run tabloid Global Times. “Those claims are groundless. The lab has not been aware of this situation, and I don’t even know where such information came from.”

The West —largely led by the US, Canada, the UK and Norway — expressed concerns in March about the COVID origin study conducted earlier by a WHO team. The countries sought a larger probe on the origin of the disease, with complete access to data related to human beings, animals and laboratories.

Related news: No proof to show Wuhan gave COVID; controversial lab leak theory quashed

China said on Sunday the WHO team had all but ruled out a lab leak. Slamming the theory propounded by the US, it said: “Is it actually concerned about tracing the source or trying to divert attention?”

The Donald Trump government had often reiterated the hypothesis that the coronavirus originated at the WIV. However, many experts pointed out that what the scientists suffered from could even have been a bout of routine seasonal illnesses. The symptoms between these often overlap with those of COVID.