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China denies three Wuhan lab researchers fell ill in November 2019

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China denies three Wuhan lab researchers fell ill in November 2019
Reports of illness among researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, were dismissed as false claims by Beijing on Monday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

May 24 (UPI) -- China said Monday a report that three scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill as early as November 2019, a month before the first known outbreak of COVID-19 from a seafood market, is not true.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report, researchers were hospitalized in November.

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But China said Monday the Journal article is false and international health experts have disproved the claims.

The Trump administration in January issued a fact sheet that said an undisclosed number of Wuhan lab scientists began to exhibit "symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness."

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The Trump-era State Department document did not say how many people were hospitalized and only said the infections occurred in autumn 2019. The document also did not confirm whether the patients' symptoms required hospital care, according to CNN Monday.

A Wall Street Journal source identified as one of several current and former U.S. officials said the information can be trusted.

"Very precise," the source said. "What it didn't tell you was exactly why they got sick."

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Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday the claim is "completely untrue," according to USA Today.

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"The United States continues to hype the lab leak theory. Is the real intention to express concern over the virus origin or to divert attention?" Zhao said.

Yuan Zhiming, director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab, told the Global Times the report was a "complete lie."

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"Those claims are groundless," Yuan said. "The lab has not been aware of this situation, and I don't even know where such information came from."

"Through field visits and in-depth visits in China, the experts unanimously agreed that the allegation of lab leaking is extremely unlikely."

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