Wuhan lab 'not ruled out' from investigation says WHO professor
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Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care in November 2019, months before any inkling of the COVID-19 pandemic was released by China. The news comes more than a year after countries around the world have been locked down with devastating health and economic consequences. First reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the publication cited a previously undisclosed US intelligence report.
The report could add significance to calls for a broader probe of whether the COVID-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory, as sources from within the Biden administration claim they have “serious questions” about how the outbreak initially started.
Vitally, it provides fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits.
It came on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) decision-making body, which is believed to be readying to discuss the next phase of an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Earlier this year, a WHO team investing the virus’ origins was initially denied entry into China.
The health outfit claimed there was a problem with a lack of visa clearances.
China, however, challenged this, saying details of the visit, including dates, were still being arranged.
The team was allowed in later that month as well as February.
A National Security Council spokeswoman had no comment on the WSJ’s report.
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However, she said the Biden administration continued to have “serious questions about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its origins within the People’s Republic of China”.
The US Government is currently working with the WHO and other member states to support an “expert-driven” evaluation of the pandemic’s origins “that is free from interference or politicisation”.
The spokeswoman added: “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.”
The WSJ said a number of current and former officials familiar with the intelligence about the lab researchers expressed a range of views about the strength of the report’s supporting evidence.
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One unnamed person said it needed “further investigation and additional corroboration”.
Among the countries to have expressed concern include the US, Norway, Canada and Britain.
All called for further access to all pertinent human, animal and other data about the early stages of the outbreak.
According to a source familiar with the effort, Washington is keen to ensure greater cooperation and transparency by China.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment by Reuters.
China’s foreign ministry did, however, note that a WHO team in February concluded a lab leak was extremely unlikely after a visit to the virology institute.
In response to a comment request from the WSJ, it said: “The US continues to hype the lab leak theory.
“Is it actually concerned about tracing the source or trying to divert attention?”
Former President Donald Trump pushed the theory that the virus may have escaped from a Chinese lab.
Beijing has consistently denied this.
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