U.S. diplomats and officials at the Beijing Embassy had been aware of the research on bat coronaviruses being done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in late 2017, prompting an alert to Washington, D.C., two years before the coronavirus pandemic began to spread that the lab's own scientists were reporting a "serious shortage" of technicians and investigators who could safely operate the facility, according to a new book.
Their cables were ignored, writes Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin in his book, "Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century," which is being released Tuesday.
According to an excerpt of the book posted on Politico Monday, outgoing President Donald Trump's State Department released a statement on Jan. 15, during the last days of the administration, claiming that the intelligence community had evidence that researchers at the WIV laboratory had been sickened with COVID-19 symptoms in autumn 2019 and that the lab had been conducting research with the Chinese military despite its appearances as a "civilian institution."
The administration also claimed that Beijing was continuing to withhold information about the virus.
Initially, the Chinese had said the pandemic spread from a wet market in Wuhan, but by spring 2020 U.S. government officials started seeing evidence that the outbreak had a connection to Wuhan's laboratories, including the WIV.
But the name of that laboratory was already familiar to some within the government after the alert had been issued two years before about the facility, Rogin writes.
The two cables were written after top health and science officials from the embassy attended a conference in Beijing and heard about a new study from a group of scientists in conjunction with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and after their visits to the WIV.
They warned not only about the capabilities of workers at the lab, but that the researchers had found new bat coronaviruses there that could easily infect humans through the same means used in the original SARS coronavirus.
One of the cable's writers told Rogin they kept the cables unclassified, but there was no response from the State Department, and over the course of 2018, with U.S.-China tensions rising, U.S. diplomats lost access to the Chinese labs.
Rogin, who published a story in April 2020 about the cables, denies in his book that they were leaked to him by a Trump administration official and that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was angry when he found out.
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