The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) “collaborated” with the Chinese military on coronavirus experiments in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released Friday.
The WIV provided financial support and its staff conducted experiments from 2017 to 2019 to improve China’s understanding of viruses “for [the] defensive and biosecurity needs of the military,” according to the report. However, coronaviruses WIV researchers and People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-associated scientists worked on were unlikely to have been the cause of COVID-19, DNI determined.
The “collaboration” between WIV researchers and PLA personnel focused “on biosafety and biosecurity projects,” according to the report. Researchers from the PLA also utilized WIV labs for coronavirus and vaccine-associated research, working closely with WIV personnel to develop “therapeutics” relevant to the viruses.
The DNI report appears to contradict the journalists’ findings, stating that although “several WIV researchers were ill in Fall 2019 with symptoms; some of their symptoms were consistent with but not diagnostic of COVID-19,” adding their “symptoms could have been caused by a number of diseases.”
Up until January 2019, WIV researchers undertook experiments similar to COVID-19 in BSL-2 labs (biosafety level 2), which are more secure than BSL-1 labs, but less secure than BSL-4 ones, according to the report. Researchers did this “despite acknowledgements going back to 2017 of these virus’ ability to directly infect humans through their spike protein and early 2019 warnings of the danger of this practice.”
DNI’s findings acknowledge some researchers likely did not practice sufficient “biosafety precautions at least some of the time prior to the pandemic in handling SARS-like coronaviruses, increasing the risk of accidental exposure to viruses.”
The DNI report follows a recently uncovered State Department cable indicating the PLA operated “shadow labs” at the WIV from August 2020.
The U.S. Energy Department determined the most likely origin of the COVID-19 pandemic likely emerged from a Chinese laboratory, The Wall Street Journal reported in February. The DNI report reached a different conclusion, stating, COVID-19 “most likely was caused by natural exposure to an infected animal that carried SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor, a virus that probably would be more than 99 percent similar to SARSCoV-2.”
Data DNI reviewed, in collaboration with the wider Intelligence Community, suggests that the research between the WIV and PLA consisted of multiple coronaviruses, although the report states none of those viruses were likely to be a precursor to COVID-19, which was discovered in late 2019.
“This report does not address the merits of the two most likely pandemic origins hypotheses, nor does it explore other biological facilities in Wuhan other than the WIV,” DNI says in its executive summary.
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