The U.S. government has evidence that researchers at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, became sick in Fall 2019 with flu-like symptoms, raising concerns that they were infected with the novel coronavirus as the result of a lab accident, the State Department said Friday.
The agency said that the government still does not know the true origins of the coronavirus, which has caused more than 2 million deaths across the globe.
The prevailing theory, and one pushed by Chinese government officials, has been that the virus jumped from an animal to a human in Wuhan before spreading rapidly to other nations. But some U.S. officials and health experts have asserted that the virus could have accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
“The U.S. government does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus—known as SARS-CoV-2—was transmitted initially to humans. We have not determined whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China,” reads the State Department fact sheet.
The agency said that it was releasing previously undisclosed intelligence about WIV, including that researchers at the lab became sick in Fall 2019, just before Chinese authorities say that the virus began to spread in Wuhan. (RELATED: Did Coronavirus Come From A Lab In Wuhan? Ten Takeaways From A Shocking New Report)
“The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”
The State Department says that the intelligence “raises questions” about comments from WIV researcher Shi Zhengli, who has said publicly that there was “zero” coronavirus infection among WIV staffers and students.
The fact sheet says WIV began conducting experiments in 2016 on a coronavirus that originated in bats that is closely related to the virus currently spreading across the globe.
The State Department also says WIV has collaborated on “secret projects” with China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army.
“Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military,” the fact sheet says. “The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”
The State Department criticized the Chinese Communist Party, saying that party officials have “systematically prevented a transparent and thorough investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic’s origin, choosing instead to devote enormous resources to deceit and disinformation.”
According to the fact sheet, CCP officials have prevented independent researchers from interviewing WIV researchers, including those that became sick prior to the pandemic.
“The CCP’s deadly obsession with secrecy and control comes at the expense of public health in China and around the world,” the State Department asserted.
The World Health Organization sent a team of researchers this week to Wuhan to study the origins of the virus. Chinese authorities have delayed the fact-finding mission twice, much to the chagrin of WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Tedros said at a press conference on Jan. 5 that the Chinese government’s delay of the fact-check mission was “disappointing.”
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