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COVID-19 may have leaked from Wuhan lab concludes US report

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Washington, June 08: A report by a US government national laboratory on the origins of COVID-19 claimed that the virus leaked from a Chinese lab in Wuhan. It says that this theory is plausible and deserves further investigation, The Wall Street Journal reported while citing people familiar with the classified document.

COVID-19 may have leaked from Wuhan lab concludes US report

The study was prepared in May 2020 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The report was referred to the state department when it conducted an inquiry into the origins of the pandemic during the final months of the Donald Trump administration, the report also said.

In May it was claimed that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, weeks before Beijing disclosed the COVID-19 pandemic, a US media report said, citing a previously undisclosed American intelligence document that could add weight to growing calls for a full scale probe of whether the coronavirus may have escaped from China's top bio lab.

The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said that several researchers at the Wuhan lab, a center for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 "with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness," the Wall Street Journal reported.

The origins of the COVID-19 remain a widely debated topic, with some scientists and politicians maintaining that the possibility of a lab leak of the deadly virus exists. The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is near the outbreak''s known epicentre of Huanan Seafood Market in central China's Wuhan city, where the virus first emerged in late 2019 and became a pandemic.

Former US president Donald Trump was among those who supported the theory that the virus might have escaped from a bio lab in China.

"Three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care," the paper said.

The disclosure of the number of Chinese 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.

The paper said that current and former officials familiar with the intelligence about the lab researchers expressed differing views about the strength of the supporting evidence, with one person saying it was provided by an international partner and was potentially significant but still in need of further investigation and additional corroboration.

Another person described intelligence as stronger. "The information that we had coming from the various sources was of exquisite quality. It was very precise. What it didn't tell you was exactly why they got sick," he said, referring to the researchers.

China, however, denied the WSJ report on Monday, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying the WIV released a statement on March 23 that made it clear that there were zero COVID-19 infections at the institute.

"As a matter of fact, the WIV had not been exposed to Covid-19 before December 30, 2019, and a ''zero-infection'' record is kept among its staff and graduate students so far," Zhao said in updated comments on the Foreign Ministry website.

"Therefore, the report you mentioned that three people at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill is totally untrue," he said.

Zhao sought to refute the WSJ report citing the observations of the joint expert group of China and the World Health Organisation (WHO) who visited Wuhan, that it is extremely unlikely coronavirus has escaped from the bio lab.

Also Yuan Zhiming, director of the WIV, told the state-run Global Times that the WSJ report is an "outright lie that came from nowhere".

"I''ve read it, it''s a complete lie," Yuan said. "Those claims are groundless. The lab has not been aware of this situation [sick researchers in autumn 2019], and I don''t even know where such information came from."

Beijing has also been vehemently denying that the coronavirus broke out in Wuhan and took exception to Trump's reference to it as "China virus" or "Wuhan virus". China asserts that the COVID-19 broke out in different places in the world and China only reported the virus first.

Zhao reiterated China''s assertions that the US should open up its bio-lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland and 200 other such labs for WHO experts visits as China did.

In a detailed article titled 'The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora's box at Wuhan' published in the prestigious Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists early this month, noted British science writer, editor and author Nicholas Wade raised several questions on the origin of the novel coronavirus that has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year and caused over three million deaths and wrecked global economies.

The evidence adds up to a serious case that the SARS2 virus could have been created in a lab, from which it then escaped, wrote Wade, who refers to SARS-CoV-2 virus as SARS2 in short.
Significantly, Zhao quoted Peter Daszak, Member of the WHO experts'' team, praising the cooperation extended by WIV to the joint study group.

However, Wade in the article questioned the credentials of Daszak who is the President of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Daszak's organization funded coronavirus research at the WIV, Wade said.

"If the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Daszak would be potentially culpable," Wade wrote.

Earlier this month, a group of leading UK and US scientists called for more investigation to determine the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the theory of an accidental release from a lab in Wuhan.

In May 2020, the World Health Assembly requested that the WHO director-general work with partners to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

A team of WHO experts, which probed the origin of the coronavirus, concluded in March that "all hypotheses" included the allegation that COVID-19 could have emanated from a bio lab "remained open".

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, while receiving the report of the international experts' team which visited Wuhan, said on March 30 that "as far as the WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table".

"This report is a very important beginning, but it is not the end. We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do," he said.

Significantly, Tedros said the team has concluded that leak from the WIV as alleged by former US president Donald Trump is the "least likely hypothesis" but it requires further probe.

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