Sunday, October 17

China Rejects Report of Sick Personnel in Wuhan Lab Ahead of Covid Outbreak | Coronavirus

China has vehemently denied a Wall Street Journal report citing US intelligence materials that said several staff members at a key virus laboratory in Wuhan had fallen ill shortly before the first patient with Covid-like symptoms was registered in the city on December 8, 2019. .

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it was “completely false” that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) fell ill in the fall of 2019. The report, based on “previously undisclosed” US intelligence. , said lab workers and staff had become ill “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

“The United States continues to promote the ‘lab leak’ theory … Does traceability matter to you, or is it just trying to distract attention?” Zhao said. He also cited a WIV March Statement , in which the institute said it “had never dealt with Sars-CoV-2 before December 30, 2019.”

The Wall Street Journal report came on the eve of a key meeting of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, which is expected to discuss in detail the next phase of an investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

Separately, CNN reported on Monday, citing intelligence briefers, that the intelligence community “still doesn’t know what the investigators were really sick with.” “At the end of the day, there is still nothing final,” one of the people who has seen the intelligence told CNN.

Shi Zhengli, who heads the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at WIV, said earlier this year that all staff had tested negative for Covid-19 antibodies and that there had been no staff turnover in the coronavirus team.

International experts investigating the origins of the coronavirus said in February, after their trip to China, that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had spread from a laboratory leak in the city of Wuhan.

Peter Ben Embarek, head of the WHO mission, said at the time that work to identify the origins of Covid-19 pointed to a “natural reservoir” in bats, but that this was “unlikely” to occur in Wuhan. .

However, the organization’s managing director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in March that “all hypotheses remain on the table” after 14 countries, including the US and the UK, made a joint statement expressing their concern about the conclusions of the WHO team.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said Monday that the organization’s technical teams were deciding next steps. He said more studies were needed on the role of animal markets, as well as the laboratory leak hypothesis.

In Washington, a spokesman for the US national security council said the Biden administration continued to have “serious doubts about the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its origins in the People’s Republic of China.”

He said the US government was working with the WHO and other member states to support an expert-led assessment of the origins of the pandemic “that is free from interference or politicization.”

The theory of laboratory leaks has been around since last year. In January 2020, as China was trying to contain the spread of the virus, rumors began to spread amid the scramble for answers. The conservative US website Washington Times, for example, alleged that the coronavirus “may have originated in a laboratory linked to China’s biological warfare program.”

But what many virus experts considered a matter of pure science quickly turned into a diplomatic dispute, amid rising tensions between China and the United States. Three weeks after the Washington Times report, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton raised the lab leak theory, though he admitted he had no evidence to back it up.

In March 2020, Lijian claimed on his Twitter account that the coronavirus was an “American disease” that could have been brought to China by members of the United States military who had visited Wuhan a few months earlier. He also did not provide evidence to support his theory.

Soon after, several US allies began calling for an independent investigation into the origin of Covid-19. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, for example, reiterated his country’s call in his speech to the United Nations general assembly in September.

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