Three researchers from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalised with serious illness in November 2019 - just months before the COVID-19 outbreak was reported, a previously undisclosed US intelligence report has said.

This has added calls for a broader probe on whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, may have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where the first outbreak was recorded, the Wall Street Journal reported.

November 2019 is roughly the time when many epidemiologists and virologists believe the SARS-CoV-2 first began circulating around the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

A US State Department fact sheet released in the final days of the Trump administration had said that several researchers in the lab became sick in autumn 2019 with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and seasonal illness.

Many consider the lab, which does extensive research on coronaviruses in bats, as well as other pathogens, to be the likely source of the virus.

Beijing has repeatedly denied such claims.

The new report, which details the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits, comes just days ahead of a meeting by the World Health Organization's decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

A team of experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) too has dismissed a lab-leak theory after a visit to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the virus in February this year.

It is worth noting that China had refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to the WHO-led team probing the origins of the pandemic, further complicating efforts to understand how the outbreak began.

Source: Wall Street Journal
Photo source: Reuters