Significant new evidence has emerged, suggesting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have accidentally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). According to a comprehensive investigation by Public and Racket, which included interviews with multiple U.S. government officials, the first people infected by the virus, known as “patients zero,” included Ben Hu, a researcher who led the WIV’s “gain-of-function” research on SARS-like coronaviruses.
For over three years, many people worldwide had given up on discovering the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the highly infectious respiratory virus responsible for millions of deaths and widespread societal disruption. Public officials in the U.S. and other countries have repeatedly suggested that uncovering the pandemic’s origin may not be possible.
However, sources within the U.S. government now say that three of the earliest people to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 were Ben Hu, Yu Ping, and Yan Zhu, all members of the Wuhan lab suspected of leaking the pandemic virus. These scientists were working with the closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2 and inserting gain-of-function features unique to it.
Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said, “Ben Hu is essentially the next Shi Zhengli,” referring to the scientist known as “the bat woman of China,” who led the gain-of-function research at the WIV. Hu and Yu researched the novel lineage of SARS-like viruses from which SARS-CoV-2 hails and coauthored a paper with Shi Zhengli in 2019 that described the SARS-like lineages they had studied over the years.
Jamie Metzl, a former member of the World Health Organisation expert advisory committee on human genome editing, said, “It’s a game changer if it can be proven that Hu got sick with COVID-19 before anyone else. That would be the ‘smoking gun.'”
Next week, the Directorate of National Intelligence is expected to release previously classified material, which may include the names of the three WIV scientists who were likely among the first to be sickened by SARS-CoV-2. A bill signed by President Biden earlier this year specifically called for the release of this information.