Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team at the Wuhan Institute of Virology | Photographer: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images via Bloomberg
Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team at the Wuhan Institute of Virology | Photographer: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images via Bloomberg
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New Delhi: Just days after scientists called for a deeper investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report has revealed that three researchers at the Wuhan Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) fell sick and were hospitalised in November 2019, before Covid-19 cases were officially registered.

The exclusive report notes that “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.”

A report of the WHO investigation, which involved an expert team visiting Wuhan, stated that the outbreak was probably spread to humans from bats via another animal and the hypothesis of lab leaks was extremely unlikely. The report, jointly brought out with China, was released in March.

Citing a “previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report”, the WSJ report noted that this can “add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory”.

Also read: WHO’s report on origins of Covid-19: Highlights, reactions and criticism by world leaders

‘Researchers had symptoms consistent with Covid’ 

Issued right before Joe Biden took over as president of the United States, the State Department fact-sheet said that during autumn 2019, several researchers fell ill “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness”.

The report also quotes current and former officials in the know, without naming anyone, on the credibility and accuracy of this information. “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,” a spokeswoman for the National Security Council was quoted as saying.

“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,” she added.

China has repeatedly tried to shift focus from itself to other countries — suggesting the US military laboratory in Maryland could be one possibility of origin. However, there is little to no evidence that has come to light to support this claim.

According to the WSJ report, the Biden administration declined to comment but said that all technically credible theories should be investigated by the WHO and international experts.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Why the suspicion on China’s Wuhan lab virus is growing. Read these new analyses


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