LONDON: COVID-19 is widely believed to have emanated from a “wet market” selling livestock infected with the virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but speculation has abounded, particularly in the US and from President Donald Trump, that the source of the outbreak may have come from elsewhere.
Those theories have been bolstered by a report from US broadcaster NBC News that the Wuhan Institute of Virology may have been the subject of an emergency shutdown, leading to police blocking off the site in October 2019, a few weeks prior to the outbreak in the city.
NBC added that intelligence agencies in the United States and the United Kingdom are reviewing a secret report that implies that between October 7 and October 24, data from the National Biosafety Laboratories is not considered to be very secure.
The site was a source of frequent cell phone activity before October 7, so the author of the report speculated that the “dangerous event” may have occurred between October 6 and October 11.
In the NBC intelligence report, the mobile data also indicated that a police barricade had been set up between October 14 and October 19.
However, people have doubts about the report’s authenticity and authorship, and experts say the report may be based only on commercially available cell phone data and is limited.
Ruaridh Arrow, head of NBC News’ London verification department, also urged caution, saying the data is “potentially misleading.”
Arrow tweeted: “(The) first important thing to note is that the data points are very low. Our sources estimate 2-300 people work at the lab but the number of devices ‘seen’ in the period before the alleged shutdown never get above 10, although in the previous 18 months they never fell to zero either.”
The existence of the report may be a source of information that has prompted Trump to be open to the cause of the outbreak, who previously said he was “ very confident ” in the flu accident in Wuhan’s laboratory.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also credited the story and said there is “a lot of evidence”.
The US Senate Intelligence Committee has also read this 24-page report. Republican Senator and Commissioner Marco Rubio tweeted on May 6: “If someone analyzes commercial telemetry data in and around the Wuhan lab from October to December 2019, he will be very interesting.
“If it shows dramatic drop off in activity compared to previous 18 months it would be a strong indication of an incident at lab & of when it happened.”
Beijing dismissed the claim that the virus had escaped from the laboratory and called on Washington to “provide evidence.”
According to NBC reports, US intelligence officials privately hinted that there was insufficient evidence to support the report’s claims, saying the findings were “not a conclusion.”