House Republicans published a report blaming the COVID-19 outbreak on a Chinese lab leak, but the US intelligence community has yet to back the theory

wuhan institute of virology
Guards stand outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

  • Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released a report blaming COVID-19 on a lab leak.
  • The theory has been gaining popularity but has not been backed by the US intelligence committee.
  • The report theorizes that lab workers were accidentally infected in unsafe working conditions.
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Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released a report on Monday blaming the COVID-19 outbreak on a Chinese lab leak – a theory that has been gaining popularity but has yet to gain the support of the US intelligence community.

Monday’s release was an addendum to the original report on the origins of the pandemic released by the committee’s minority staff last September.

While the original report focused mainly on China’s role in downplaying the outbreak, the addendum included details from records released in the past year to draw the conclusion that the virus was accidentally released from a Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) laboratory.

Below are highlights from the report. It should be noted that the staff report is only a hypothesis based on open source records.

  • The Committee Minority Staff believe COVID-19 was “accidentally released from a Wuhan Institute of Virology Laboratory sometime prior to September 12, 2019.”
  • That date is when the institute’s public database of samples and virus sequences was taken offline in the middle of the night.
  • That same day, the WIV announced a $1.2 million security project to hire gatekeepers and guards, install video surveillance, and institute security patrols to handle the “registration and reception of foreign personnel.”
  • The report hypothesized that the virus first spread to lab staff due to unsafe conditions, noting that a relatively new hazardous waste treatment system and central air conditioning system underwent renovations in July 2019 and September 2019.
  • The report’s authors said these projects “raise questions about how well these systems were functioning prior to the outbreak.”
  • An air conditioning system that wasn’t functioning properly “likely resulted in lower than ideal air circulation … enabling particles to remain suspended in the air longer,” the report said.
  • The Republicans believe the first lab workers were infected in late August or early September 2019, and spread the virus to central Wuhan. This is the earliest outbreak date given so far. The original report pinpointed the virus emerging in mid-November 2019.
  • The 2019 Military World Games, held in Wuhan in October 2019, may have been one of the first “super spreader” events and how the virus spread globally so fast. Many of the athletes at the event reported feeling sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and went back to countries that later became early hotspots for the virus.

The idea that COVID-19 escaped from a lab was one theory raised in the early days of the outbreak, since the WIV conducts research on coronaviruses. But China shut down that line of inquiry early on by blaming the outbreak on a Wuhan wet market.

Republicans including Sen. Tom Cotton and former President Donald Trump often pushed the lab leak theory last year, but it was largely dismissed at the time as a conspiracy theory.

But the theory has regained popularity in recent months after China refused to be fully transparent with a World Health Organization investigation into COVID-19’s origins.

The theory has yet to be confirmed by the US intelligence committee, though it is likely to be addressed by the end of the month. In late May, President Joe Biden gave the US intelligence committee 90 days to conclude a probe on COVID-19’s origins, meaning a report is due by late August.

It was reported at the time that the US intelligence committee was split over two possible theories: That the virus emerged from a lab, or that the virus emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, a source told the Financial Times in May.

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A scientist says he’s found 13 Wuhan coronavirus sequences that were deleted from a US database – and claims they’re a ‘goldmine’ for research into the virus’ origins

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A man receives a nasal swab COVID-19 test at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport .

  • A Seattle researcher said he’s uncovered previously deleted data on coronavirus sequences from Wuhan, China.
  • The sequences were a “gold mine” for scientists researching the virus’ origins, he said.
  • The data was initially uploaded to a US database by Chinese scientists before being deleted.
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A researcher in Seattle claims he’s discovered 13 partial coronavirus sequences from samples collected in Wuhan, China, that were deleted from a US database last year.

The discovery could mean scientists researching the origins of the pandemic have been working with incomplete data, he said.

Dr. Jesse Bloom, a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, said Tuesday that he had recovered the deleted files from Google Cloud, and had reconstructed partial sequences of 13 viruses. He said they came from samples taken at the early stages of pandemic in Wuhan, where scientists first discovered SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The data initially came from a study by Wuhan University scientists, he said.

Bloom said his findings suggested the coronavirus was already circulating in Wuhan before being linked to COVID-19 outbreaks at the Huanan Seafood Market. They also suggested the sequences used in most studies into the virus’ origins, including the joint WHO-China report, “are not fully representative of the viruses actually present in Wuhan at that time,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, Bloom has called for more research into the origins of the pandemic. But he told CNN that the new sequences alone didn’t provide any further evidence about whether the virus spread naturally from animals to humans or was, as some claim, the result of a laboratory leak.

Bloom said that the samples, from early outpatients in Wuhan, were a “gold mine” for scientists wanting to understand the spread of the virus.

Bloom’s findings, published in a paper, haven’t been peer-reviewed by experts.

Read more: Experts explain why the mRNA tech that revolutionized COVID-19 vaccines could be the answer to incurable diseases, heart attacks, and even snake bites: ‘The possibilities are endless’

Bloom said that there was “no plausible scientific reason” for the sequences being deleted from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) database. The NIH said that it had removed the sequences in June 2020 at the request of the person that added them to the database, and said that allowing this was standard practice, CNN reported.

Prof David Robertson, an expert on viruses at the University of Glasgow, said in a statement that it was difficult to “conclude this is a cover-up rather than a more mundane deletion of data,” based on Bloom’s paper. “We also know already that the Huanan market wasn’t the sole spillover event and SARS-CoV-2 was probably circulating in late October/November,” he said.

Prof Martin Hibberd, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement: “More work would need to be done to know how solid these findings are, particularly the accuracy and reasons for the sequence deletions, but it does look intriguing.”

Bloom said that he was reviewing genetic data when he discovered a March 2020 study about 241 genetic virus sequences collected by scientists at Wuhan University. He said he couldn’t find the research online publicly, but was able to access 13 sequences via Google Cloud.

Additional reporting from Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce

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Wuhan virologist Dr. Shi Zhengli denies COVID-19 lab leak theory in rare interview

Wuhan lab
This aerial view shows the P4 laboratory (C) on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on May 27, 2020. – Opened in 2018, the P4 lab conducts research on the world’s most dangerous diseases and has been accused by some top US officials of being the source of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

In a rare interview with The New York Times, Wuhan virologist Dr. Shi Zhengli denied claims that the COVID-19 virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“My lab has never conducted or cooperated in conducting gain-of-function experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses,” she told The Times. Experts in the international community have struggled to gain transparent access to the lab, in order to determine the coronavirus’ origin.

“How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?” Zhengli said in the interview. “I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist,” she said.

Dr. Zhengli said that claims that the lab bolstered the virus and kept information about it’s spread under wraps are “speculation rooted in utter distrust.”

“I’m sure that I did nothing wrong,” she told the Times. “So I have nothing to fear.”

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State Department staff warned leaders against investigating COVID-19’s origins, fearing it would ‘open a can of worms,’ according to a senior Trump appointee

covid researchers wuhan
A worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.

Staff in two US government bureaus warned leaders against pursuing an investigation into the origins COVID-19 because it would “open a can of worms,” according to an internal memo viewed by Vanity Fair.

Thomas DiNanno, former acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, said in the January 9 memo that staff in two bureaus told managers “not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” per Vanity Fair.

DiNanno, appointed by former President Donald Trump, said in the memo that his team had faced “apprehension and contempt” from technical staff, and a “complete lack of response to briefing and presentations” on the matter.

DiNanno was responding to a memo from Chris Ford, acting undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security.

The staff who raised the concerns were from DiNanno’s bureau and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, DiNanno said in the memo.

The theory that COVID-19 leaked from a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan has gained traction in recent weeks, but many scientists still dispute its likelihood.

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3 Wuhan lab workers were sick enough to be hospitalized in November 2019, triggering calls to reconsider theory that COVID-19 originated in a lab: WSJ

Wuhan Institute of Virology lab
The P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province, April 17, 2020.

  • Some experts disputed WHO investigation findings that COVID-19 most likely did not leak from a lab.
  • New intelligence revealed that 3 lab workers in Wuhan fell ill with COVID-19 symptoms in fall 2019.
  • The news has prompted new calls to reevaluate whether COVID-19 was leaked from a lab, WSJ reported.
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There are new calls to reevaluate whether or not COVID-19 began at the Wuhan Institute of Virology after US intelligence learned three doctors became sick with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 in November 2019 and sought out hospital care, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A report from the State Department was issued during the last days of former President Donald Trump’s administration but officials familiar with the report did not agree on the strength of the evidence found, the Journal reported.

In March, Marion Koopmans, a dutch virologist, told NBC News the illness of lab workers could be attributed to regular seasonal illnesses.

Earlier this year, a team from the World Health Organization spent a month in Wuhan investigating the origin of the virus and concluded that the virus most likely jumped from bats to people.

The group said a lab leak was “extremely unlikely.”

The WHO said it also did not have access to all the necessary information. That lack of information has prompted some experts to be wary of the findings and demand more investigations into the virus’s origin, including the possibility that it in fact was leaked from a lab.

November 2019 is also in line with when experts believe COVID-19 began circulating.

China has consistently denied that the coronavirus escaped from a lab. The lab, however, hasn’t released raw data or records on its work with coronaviruses in bats.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council told the Journal that the Biden administration still has questions on the origin of the virus but plausible theories should be investigated by WHO.

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

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Canada apologized to China after one of its diplomats ordered T-shirts saying ‘Wuhan’ styled with the Wu-Tang Clan’s logo

RZA of Wu-Tang Clan performs onstage during 10th Annual ONE Musicfest at Centennial Olympic Park on September 08, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
RZA of Wu-Tang Clan performs onstage during 10th Annual ONE Musicfest at Centennial Olympic Park on September 08, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • A Canadian diplomat in China ordered custom T-shirts that said “Wuhan” in the style of Wu-Tang Clan’s logo. 
  • The Wu-Tang logo is a “W,” though users of China’s Twitter-like Weibo described the logo as looking like a bat. 
  • Canada apologized to China for the shirts, calling the incident a “misunderstanding.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Canada has apologized to China after a diplomat of the country’s Beijing Embassy ordered custom T-shirts that said “Wuhan” in the style of Wu-Tang Clan’s logo.

The rap group’s logo is a stylized “W,” though Reuters reported that when the maker of the shirt posted images of it online, users of China’s Twitter-like Weibo described the logo as looking like a bat, which scientists have suspected to carry COVID-19 before it spread to humans in Wuhan, China, in 2019.

Upon learning about the shirts, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told the Associated Press that he wanted Canada to “thoroughly investigate the incident and give China a clear explanation.”

A spokesperson from Canada’s foreign service agency told Reuters that Canadian officials “regret the misunderstanding” and that the shirts weren’t made to mock China’s response to COVID-19.

 

“The T-shirt logo designed by a member of the Embassy shows a stylized W, and is not intended to represent a bat. It was created for the team of Embassy staff working on repatriation of Canadians from Wuhan in early 2020,” the spokesperson said.

Wu-Tang clan did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on their logo being used.

Chinese-Canadian relations have been tense in recent years – in 2018, China arrested two Canadian men and accused them of spying, and Canada detained the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, Meng Wanzhou, who is wanted in the US on fraud charges.

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Thousands packed the streets to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, as many other cities worldwide were deserted

Skitched New Year's Eve composite 2020
An annotated composite image showing New Year’s Eve celebrations in Wuhan, London, and Milan on December 31, 2020.

  • The city of Wuhan, where the first-ever coronavirus cases were reported, celebrated New Year’s Eve in style.
  • On New Year’s Eve, they were gathered in they crammed into the city center for the midnight countdown, enjoyed the thrills of the funfair, and prayed at Buddhist temples.
  • By contrast, many cities worldwide were forced to cancel the annual celebrations to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Photos from Paris, London, New York, Berlin, and Milan show deserted squares where in previous years there would have been crowds of thousands.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In Wuhan, China, thousands gathered on the streets for the New Year celebration.

The city was the ground-zero of the coronavirus pandemic, and reported the first COVID-19 cluster exactly a year ago, on December 31, 2019.

People celebrate the arrival of the new year in Wuhan, China. December 31, 2021.
People hold balloons as they gather to celebrate the arrival of the new year, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, China December 31, 2020

Since May, it has been free from the virus following a strictly-enforced 76-day lockdown of its 11 million citizens.

Liberated from the threat of COVID-19 and life has returned to near-normal for Wuhan residents, and images from the city showed they could celebrate the New Year by cramming onto the streets to greet the New Year.

The scenes were the opposite of what could be observed in much of the rest of the world, where emergency public-health measures banished the usual crowds in the world’s best-known cities.

In New York, Times Square was deserted of revelers to watch the iconic ball drop, for the first time since 1907, reported Mail Online.

Confetti flies around the ball and countdown clock in Times Square during the virtual New Year's Eve event New York, U.S., January 1, 2021.
Confetti flies around the ball and countdown clock in Times Square during the virtual New Year’s Eve event following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 1, 2021.

This week saw the deadliest day in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic began, with a record-breaking number of hospitalizations foreshadowing potentially darker days still to come.

States across the US reported more than 3,900 deaths on Wednesday and over 125,000 hospitalizations, according to data from The Covid Tracking Project.

London cancelled its traditional firework display near the Houses of Parliament.

Where there were usually thick crowds, police patrolled to break up any unauthorized gatherings:

New Year's Eve 2020 London
Police patrol the banks of London’s River Thames on December 31, 2020. The usual crowds for New Year’s Eve were absent.

A replacement fireworks and lights display took place in east London over the Millennium Dome:

New Year's Eve 2020 London
A firework display over the Millennium Dome in east London replaced the traditional show in Westminster.

Germany too had harsh restrictions. Performers played in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, but with nobody to watch them:

New Year's Eve 2020 Berlin Germany
A celebratory concert in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate had no audience on December 31, 2020, because of coronavirus restrictions.

And in Cologne, signs warned away anyone tempted to see in the New Year in front of its Gothic cathedral:

New Year's Eve 2020 Cologne Germany
A sign warning away crowds from the imposing cathedral in Cologne, Germany, on December 31, 2020.

Paris imposed a curfew from 8.pm., ensuring there were no massed crowds around the Eiffel Tower:

New Year's Eve 2020 Paris France
A view down the Champ de Mars in Paris on December 31, 2020, with the Eiffel Tower in view. French authorities imposed a curfew from 8 p.m.

Milan, Italy, where the coronavirus first took hold in a large Western city, also had curfews to keep crowds away:

New Year's Eve 2020 Milan Italy
The usually-packed Piazza Duomo in Milan, Italy, where a 10 p.m. curfew was in place on December 31, 2020.

Istanbul’s Taksim square was similarly abandoned:

New Year's Eve 2020 Istanbul
A deserted Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, where a curfew was in place on December 31, 2020.

A year has passed since the World Health Organization announced the first confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

Yet, the virus’ origin and the true timeline of its worldwide spread remain a mystery. A growing body of evidence now suggests it was circulating months before the first cases captured global attention in Wuhan, China.

A study from Milan’s National Cancer Institute found that four of Italy’s coronavirus cases dated back to October 2019.

Research from China shows people were getting sick in Wuhan in November and early December: One analysis, based on satellite images of Wuhan hospitals and online searches for COVID-19 symptoms in the area, suggested the virus may have started circulating there as early as late summer.

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