China denies WSJ story on researchers falling sick at Wuhan lab

“The United States continues to hype up the lab leak theory. Does it care about traceability or is it just trying to distract attention?” Chinese foreign ministry said.
This photo taken on February 3, 2021 shows the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
This photo taken on February 3, 2021 shows the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
Published on May 24, 2021 05:21 PM IST
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BySutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda

China on Monday accused the US of hyping the theory that the coronavirus escaped from a lab in the central city of Wuhan after a new report said three researchers from the facility sought hospital treatment for fever in November, 2019.

Citing US intelligence, a report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were admitted to a hospital a month before Beijing reported the first cases of Covid-19.

The WSJ report came on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next stage of a probe into the Covid-19 origins. “The report that you mentioned about three people getting sick, that is not true,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a briefing on Monday in Beijing when asked to comment about the WSJ story.

Saying the report was “completely untrue”, Zhao said: “The United States continues to hype up the lab leak theory. Does it care about traceability or is it just trying to distract attention?”

Separately, Yuan Zhiming, director of the lab, also told Chinese state media that the report was not correct. “I’ve read it, it’s a complete lie,” Yuan told Global Times on Monday about the WSJ story, which was published on Sunday titled “Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate on COVID-19 Origin”.

“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,” Yuan said.

China has consistently denied the lab leak theory and has accused the US of using it as a distraction from its own handling of the pandemic.

The WHO-led investigation into the origins of Covid-19 said it was “extremely unlikely” the coronavirus came from a laboratory leak.

At the same time, international scientists have sought more data from China on early cases.

The WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said following the probe that it didn’t adequately analyse the possibility of a lab accident. “As far as 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 after the report was published.

Earlier this month, a group of 18 prominent scientists called for further investigations into the origins of the SARS-CoV2 virus, including that it could have been created in the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab.

The letter, which was published in the journal Science, was helmed by David Relman, professor of microbiology at Stanford University, and Jesse Bloom, virologist at the University of Washington, gave weight to growing calls to include all hypotheses about natural and laboratory spillovers.

“Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how Covid-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks,” the scientists wrote.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021