Three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were hospitalized in November 2019, around the time that coronavirus may have begun spreading in Wuhan, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
The assessment appears to confirm a State Department fact sheet, released by the Trump administration, which said that researchers at the WIV fell sick “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”
Current and former intelligence officials differed regarding the strength of the assessment, with one official saying the report needed additional verification. However, another official said the report was significant.
“The information that we had coming from the various sources was of exquisite quality. It was very precise,” that official told the Journal. “What it didn’t tell you was exactly why [the researchers] got sick.”
China has stated that the first confirmed case of coronavirus was recorded on December 8, 2019, in Wuhan. China has repeatedly denied that the illness escaped from the lab, citing a WHO report which called the lab-leak theory “extremely unlikely.” However, scientists from around the world and the director of the WHO have said the team did not adequately investigate the lab-leak theory due to the limitations placed on them by Beijing.
The WIV has refused to share data logs and other records for investigation into a potential lab leak. U.S. intelligence has assessed that the WIV was performing gain-of-function research, making a virus more deadly or more contagious, Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin wrote in his recent book Chaos Under Heaven, which was excerpted in Politico in March.
At least one study involving the “recombination” of SARS coronaviruses from bats, conducted at the WIV, cites the National Institutes of Health as a source of funding. The EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to the prevention of pandemics, diverted about $600,000 in NIH grants in the form of sub-grants to the WIV from 2014 through 2019, to help fund the study of bat coronaviruses.