As next week’s release of U.S. Government intelligence on Covid origins draws closer we’re getting more leaks of information from it – perhaps deliberate trailers, perhaps officials unhappy about certain redactions.
Following the Sunday Times story sourced from “U.S. investigators” that COVID-19 was an escaped virus from Chinese bioweapon research, now a leak to journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger purports to name the three Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers who were ‘patient zero’ – the first to be infected with the virus in November 2019. From Public:
Sources within the U.S. Government say that three of the earliest people to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 were Ben Hu, Yu Ping, and Yan Zhu. All were members of the Wuhan lab suspected to have leaked the pandemic virus.
As such, not only do we know there were WIV scientists who had developed COVID-19-like illnesses in November 2019, but also that they were working with the closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2, and inserting gain-of-function features unique to it.
When a source was asked how certain they were that these were the identities of the three WIV scientists who developed symptoms consistent with COVID-19 in the fall of 2019, we were told, “100%”.
Alina Chan, a Harvard molecular biologist and coauthor with Matt Ridley of Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19, told Public: “Ben Hu is essentially the next Shi Zhengli. He was her star pupil. He had been making chimeric SARS-like viruses and testing these in humanised mice. If I had to guess who would be doing this risky virus research and most at risk of getting accidentally infected, it would be him.”
It will be very interesting to see what evidence, if any, is unveiled next week on the illness of these three lab workers. The Times reported that the three had been hospitalised after falling sick in the second week of November.
They found evidence that researchers working on these experiments were taken to hospital with Covid-like symptoms in November 2019 — a month before the West became aware of the pandemic — and one of their relatives died. …
The investigators also saw communications intercepts that allegedly show three Wuhan institute researchers working at its level 3 laboratory on coronavirus gain-of-function work had fallen sick with coronavirus symptoms in the second week of November 2019.
However, this would appear to be too late to be patient zero. Current evidence on early spread suggests the virus was already circulating globally by November 2019 at the latest, so if these data are correct then the second week of November is not early enough to be the initial infections.
A leaked Chinese Government report on early cases in Wuhan identified nine patients hospitalised in November 2019 with what was later confirmed as COVID-19. The earliest symptom onset date was November 17th. Note these were just the cases retrospectively identified in this study, there may have been earlier ones.
Banked wastewater samples in Brazil turned positive as of November 27th 2019, indicating significant community spread of SARS-CoV-2 by the end of that month.
In England, Imperial’s REACT study tested around 150,000 people for antibodies in early 2021 and asked those who tested positive when they recalled having symptoms. This resulted in the following graph.
A notable rise in symptomatic illness can be seen from the end of November 2019 to a steady level that continues through the winter.
We are still yet to get decent data from the U.S. on early spread, but at least four individuals reported being ill with Covid-like symptoms in November 2019 who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies (without falling sick in the interim). These were Michael Melham of New Jersey, who reported being infected along with several others at a conference around November 21st 2019; Uf Tukel, who reported being infected in Florida along with 10 others in late November 2019; Stephen Taylor and his wife, infected in Texas in November 2019; and Jim Rust, infected in Nebraska the same month.
Taken together, these data points constitute a strong signal that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating globally by the second half of November 2019. (The negative results before that indicate it was not circulating much earlier, though there is some evidence from other studies to suggest it may have been.)
Initial infections in the second week of November do not leave enough time for the virus to be spreading widely across the U.S., England and Brazil by the middle of the month, just days later. Much more likely on these data is that the first infections occurred in October at the latest.
In addition, the Times reports says the lab workers were all in their 30s. COVID-19’s hospitalisation rate among people in their 30s is closer to 0% than 100%, casting further doubt on SARS-CoV-2 being responsible.
We’ll see what light, if any, is shed by the releases next week. But at the moment, if the lab workers went down sick in the second week of November, it’s hard to see how any of them can have been Covid patient zero.
Stop Press: Paul Nuki in the Telegraph says that researchers working at the WIV in autumn 2019 say that no lab workers were hospitalised at that time. He writes:
The ‘Zoonati’ don’t dispute that the trio worked at the lab but say they don’t believe they fell ill or were hospitalised. They say they know this because, among other things, they were working with them over the period in question and have talked to them since.
Dr. Danielle Anderson, an Australian scientist, was on secondment at the Wuhan lab until November 2019, when Covid is thought to have started spreading in the city. At the time, none of her colleagues displayed any coronavirus-like symptoms, she says.
“We went to dinners together, lunches, we saw each other outside of the lab,” Dr. Anderson told Bloomberg in an interview from 2021.
The virologist also confirmed to the Telegraph that she had attended a conference on the Nipah virus in Singapore, in December 2019, alongside Dr. Zhengli Shi, the senior scientist at the Wuhan lab and “many other” researchers from the WIV. Colleagues say if there had been a leak and three of her juniors were ill she would not have been there.
“There was no chatter,” Dr. Anderson said. “Scientists are gossipy and excited. There was nothing strange from my point of view going on at that point that would make you think something is going on here.”