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Wuhan researchers sought hospital care in late 2019: US intel

Three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill enough with symptoms similar to COVID-19 that they sought hospital care in November of 2019, according to a U.S. intelligence report obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

According to the Journal, the intelligence report, issued in the last days of the Trump administration, said researchers at the lab became sick “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”

The report could add credence to the theory that COVID-19 escaped from a lab, which has become popular in right-wing media and politicians.

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The Journal notes that the development comes just as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decisionmaking body is expected to go over the next steps of its investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has reportedly not provided raw data, safety logs or lab records on its work looking into coronaviruses in bats. Many consider the virus to have originated in bats before jumping to humans.

“The U.S. continues to hype the lab leak theory,” China's foreign ministry told the Journal. “Is it actually concerned about tracing the source or trying to divert attention?”

When reached for comment by the Journal, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told the newspaper: “We continue to have serious questions about the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its origins within the People’s Republic of China.”

“We’re not going to make pronouncements that prejudge an ongoing WHO study into the source of SARS-CoV-2,” the spokesperson added. “As a matter of policy we never comment on intelligence issues.”

Although most scientists have said that they have not seen evidence to back up the theory that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab, a group of 18 scientists published a letter in May saying the theory could not be ruled out.

"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," scientists from the University of Cambridge and Stanford University among others said in a letter published in Science Magazine.

"As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general, the United States and 13 other countries, and the European Union that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve," the scientists added. "We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data."