In what may be the first known case of a lab-acquired infection with the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, a senior scientist was infected with SARS-CoV-2 in a prestigious laboratory in Beijing in early 2020, according to virologists’ emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know.
The National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention (NIVDC), where the infection is said to have occurred, is a part of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2004, a SARS virus outbreak was traced to a lab–acquired infection from the NIVDC.
The revelation that an experienced scientist was infected with SARS-CoV-2 while working in a premier virology lab in Beijing underscores concerns about the health risks posed by biolabs researching pandemic pathogens, and in particular, facilities operated by the Chinese government.
The SARS-CoV-2 lab-acquired infection came to light in a set of emails dated Feb 14, 2020, between virologists Shan-Lu Liu (Ohio State University), Lishan Su (then of the University of North Carolina) and Shan Lu (University of Massachusetts Medical School). The context of the email exchange was in the preparation of a commentary to refute the hypothesis that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab, which Shan Lu had solicited as editor-in-chief of Emerging Microbes & Infections (EMI), a China-linked journal.
Shan-Lu Liu noted that his former director at NIVDC “has now been infected with SARS-CoV-2”, and in a separate email acknowledged that his former colleague “was infected in the lab!” Shan Lu responded, “I actually am very concerned for the possibility of SARS-2 infection by lab people. It is much more contagious than SARS-1. Now every lab is interested in get[ting] a vial of virus to do drug discovery. This can potentially [be] a big issue.”
There does not appear to be any public disclosure or reporting of this lab-acquired infection of SARS-CoV-2 from the NIVDC. This raises more questions about whether there is adequate disclosure of lab-acquired infections in China. It also reinforces the idea that if SARS-CoV-2 originated as a lab-acquired infection at the Wuhan Institute of Virology or Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there may not have been disclosure of such an accident.
For more information
Ohio State University Professor Shan-Lu Liu’s emails, which U.S. Right to Know obtained through an Ohio Public Records Act request, can be found here: Shan-Lu Liu emails: Ohio State University (488 pages)
U.S. Right to Know is posting documents from our public records requests for our biohazards investigation. See: FOI documents on origins of SARS-CoV-2, hazards of gain-of-function research and biosafety labs.