The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) suffered a viral laboratory leak or accident around the same time that Covid emerged in China, a new report has claimed.
On Wednesday, Florida senator Marco Rubio’s office released the findings of a 17-month investigation into the origins of coronavirus, which included previously undisclosed documents.
The new 329-page analysis reconstructs incidents that occurred in China in the years and months leading up to the pandemic.
Covid-19 first emerged in Wuhan in December 2019 close to where scientists at the WIV were collecting and studying bat viruses.
In a summary of the report, the team said documents suggested that “a serious biocontainment failure or accident, likely involving a viral pathogen, occurred at the state-run Wuhan Institute of Virology during the second half of 2019 - approximately during the same period of time in which the available epidemiological evidence indicates that Sars-CoV-2 was introduced to the human population in Wuhan”.
The team admitted there was no “smoking gun” within the documents, but said there was a “mountain of circumstantial evidence” that the Covid-19 pandemic likely came from a laboratory accident in Wuhan.
“After years of censorship, there is growing evidence that some type of lab accident is responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Mr Rubio.
The team said that from 2018, they had uncovered a series of inspection reports from WIV showing “hidden dangers”, “shortcomings” and various biosafety “problems” that were described as “critical” and “urgent”.
“A careful reading of reports from the WIV spanning more than a three-year period yielded a picture of a struggling institution: underfunded, under-regulated, and understaffed,” stated the report.
“The WIV was almost an accident waiting to happen, and it appears that an accident, or perhaps accidents, did happen, and roughly concurrent with the initial outbreak of Sars-CoV-2.”
Experts are still divided over how the virus first reached the human population, with many believing it is more likely to have jumped directly from bats or via an intermediary species.
Some scientists criticised the report’s conclusion, saying it showed no new data.
Commenting on the report, Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, which worked with WIV, said it was focussed on a political chronology that “completely ignores the science”.
In the new report, the authors said they had found evidence that WIV staff were overworked and inadequately trained.
As early as January 2018, US diplomats reported safety concerns at WIV to Washington. By December 2019, a number of “rectification plans” were in place to deal with issues at the laboratory.
The following March, documents show that a number of repairs and renovations to laboratories had begun, but by July 2019 more work was required to renovate the hazardous waste system, disinfect the air and manage virus samples
By September 2019 - three months before China told the world about Covid - WIV advised Wuhan Airport to carry out a drill responding to a “novel coronavirus” and began stockpiling PCR tests, said the report.
The report also showed that around September-October 2019, there was a spike in hospital traffic in Wuhan while US diplomats in the city warned that an “unusually vicious flu season” was under way.
Athletes visiting Wuhan for the Military World Games also reported illness and in November 2019, several WIV researchers were hospitalised with Covid symptoms, according to US intelligence.
WIV staff were also asked to undergo training in biosecurity in November 2019, when they were visited by an important official from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
During his visit, Ji Changzheng conveyed “important oral and written instructions” from Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, regarding the “complex and grave situation currently facing safety work”.
The report concluded: “Needless to say, we do not yet know with complete certainty that a biocontainment failure was responsible for the first human infection of Sars-CoV-2, but what we present is a substantial body of circumstantial evidence that supports the plausibility of such a scenario.”
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