The top US infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has called on China to release the medical records of nine people whose ailments could provide vital clues as to whether the coronavirus first emerged as a result of a lab leak.

The records in question concern three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who reportedly fell ill in November 2019, and six miners who fell ill after going into a bat cave in 2012, three of whom lost their lives. Scientists from that institute subsequently visited the cave to take samples from the bats.

“I would like to see the medical records of the three people who reportedly got sick in 2019. Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick from?” says Fauci in reference to the scientists.

The origin of the virus remains controversial, with U.S. intelligence agencies still examining reports regarding researchers at a Chinese virology lab in Wuhan being seriously ill in 2019, a month before the first cases of covid-19 were reported.

However, Chinese scientists and officials have consistently rejected the lab escape hypothesis, saying the virus could have been circulating in other regions before arriving in Wuhan and may even have entered China through shipments of imported frozen food or wildlife trade.

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, declined to comment directly on whether China would release the records of the nine scientists, but strongly denied that the lab was linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

At a regular briefing on Friday, the spokesman referred to a March 23 statement from the Wuhan Institute of Virology that said no staff members were confirmed to have contracted the virus. Wang reiterated China’s position that reports of a lab leak are a “conspiracy theory.”

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