23:12 GMT15 June 2021
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    The outbreak of COVID dates to December 2019, when the Chinese city of Wuhan registered the first cases of what would quickly become a global pandemic. While the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that the virus was spread from bats, some still engage in heated debate on the origins of COVID-19, claiming that it could have leaked from a lab.

    Three researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology were sick enough to go to hospital prior to when the coronavirus outbreak was claimed to have begun, according to a new, previously undisclosed, piece of US intelligence cited in a report by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

    According to the newly-surfaced details, Wuhan-based medical researchers became sick in autumn 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.”

    The WSJ also cited several people familiar with the intelligence, who, however, appear to be divided over the new information. Some cast doubt of the supporting evidence for the intel and noted that additional investigation is still required. Others deem the new assessment as trustworthy.

    "The information that we had coming from the various sources was of exquisite quality. It was very precise. What it didn’t tell you was exactly why they [the researchers] got sick,” an unnamed person told the WSJ.

    The origins of the global coronavirus pandemic that has wrought havoc across the world during 2020 are still the subject of heated debate, even in light of a March report by the World Health Organization (WHO) that suggested that the virus most probably spread to humans from animals.

    The theory that the coronavirus escaped a Chinese laboratory, hyped by many, including the administration of the former US president, Donald Trump, was labeled by a 12-nation scientific team as "extremely unlikely", even though it noted that “more timely and comprehensive data” is needed to draw a rock-solid conclusion.

    Speculation on the laboratory-related origin of the COVID-19 coronavirus has been repeatedly dismissed by Beijing, with the government denouncing the allegations as politicised and calling for other theories to be investigated - in particular, suggestions that the virus could have originated outside China, in places like the Fort Detrick military base in Maryland.

    Amid a WHO report that apparently failed to convince the team of a laboratory cover-up conspiracy, one WHO researcher said that "demonstrably false attacks" the report has received "undermine science" and promote conspiracies instead of helping the world to reach a better understanding of how to prevent pandemics.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci arrives to testify before the House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on the Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 15, 2021.
    © REUTERS / POOL
    Dr. Anthony Fauci arrives to testify before the House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on the Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 15, 2021.

    Among those who are still doubtful is top American infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in early May stated that he was "not convinced" of a natural development of the COVID-19 coronavirus, calling for further investigation into its true origin.

    “Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out. So, you know, that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus,” said Fauci, who runs the US National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, during a “United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking" event, cited by Fox News.

    The outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic began in December 2019, when the Chinese city of Wuhan was closed down after it saw a rapid rise from the first cases of the respiratory disease.

    Related:

    WHO COVID-19 Origins Report Finds Wuhan Lab Leak Conspiracy Theory ‘Extremely Unlikely’
    Coronavirus Likely ‘Escaped’ From Wuhan Lab, Ex-CDC Chief Claims
    'Significant Circumstantial Evidence' Points to COVID Leak From Wuhan Lab, House Republicans Claim
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    laboratory, Wuhan, China, coronavirus, COVID-19
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