The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that three Wuhan lab research staff sought hospital treatment in November 2019, a month before COVID-19 was reported by China.
The WSJ cites a U.S. intelligence report that details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits, and may add weight to calls for a broader investigation into whether the COVID-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory.
The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan, where the lab focusing on coronaviruses was centered. The Trump State Department released a fact sheet in January that cited researchers were sick in the autumn of 2019, but the details released Sunday are new.
The director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab, which is part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, issued a strong denial of the report on Monday. “I’ve read it, it’s a complete lie,” director Yuan Zhiming 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 World Health Organizations investigations into the origins of the pandemic stated there was no reporting of Covid-19 compatible respiratory illness during the weeks/months prior to December 2019.
Disease ecologist Peter Daszak, who worked on the WHO team, told CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in February that “there is really still no evidence that this came from a lab.” He noted that researchers were tested and there was no evidence found of Covid antibodies, and said the lab was “very well run.”
The WHO investigation was criticized by the U.S. and other governments over its limited access to “complete, original data and samples.” The report was issued on the eve of another round of discussions by the WHO on the next phase of the origins of COVID-19.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said via email that the organisation’s technical teams were now deciding on the next steps. He said further study was needed into the role of animal markets as well as the lab leak hypothesis.