Members of Congress are calling on the Biden administration to launch an investigation into whether an international competition in Wuhan, China, involving thousands of athletes from around the world in October 2019 was the world’s first coronavirus “superspreader” event, according to a report on Wednesday.
More than 9,000 athletes, including a delegation of 280 athletes and staff from the US, attended the two week-long Wuhan Military World Games, and many of them said they later fell ill with COVID-like symptoms, a Washington Post columnist reported in an op-ed.
Many of the athletes said Wuhan looked like a “ghost town” in October‚ two months before China reported the first case of coronavirus there.
As the coronavirus spread around the world in early 2020, athletes from France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg claimed they had contracted the deadly disease at the Wuhan games, because of their symptoms and how easily their sickness spread to their loved ones.
In Washington, the report said military brass either dismissed the possibility or were unaware of it, and no antibody testing was ever conducted on the athletes that attended the games.
“Given unanswered questions surrounding the origins of the pandemic, information involving the health of service members who participated in the 2019 games could provide key evidence in understanding when COVID-19 first emerged,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the report said.
“While anecdotal, these reports raise important questions about the timeline of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.”
An investigation could turn up evidence that the coronavirus was circulating in Wuhan months before the Chinese Communist government acknowledged its existence.
The theory that the disease began in the Wuhan Institute of Virology gained credibility after a report said workers at the lab were hospitalized in November 2019 with coronavirus-like symptoms.
Gallagher is seeking information on whether the US athletes were tested for antibodies, or if there were outbreaks at the bases when they returned, and if the Pentagon shared information with other militaries that took part in the games.
The congressman also noted that Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he believes the coronavirus began in Wuhan in September or October 2019 and could have already been in the US by December 2019.
Sen. Roger Marshall wrote separately to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra about whether the agency was aware of US athletes falling ill after returning from Wuhan.
“The World Military Games’ proximity to the [Wuhan Institute of Virology] and the new details of the athletes potentially being exposed to COVID-19 while participating in the event present an alarming coincidence our government must investigate to establish an accurate timeline of the outbreak,” Marshall (R-Kansas) wrote in his letter.
“If these individuals were exposed in October, this evidence will further help us understand the origin of COVID-19 and prepare for future outbreaks,” he said.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the military has no knowledge of coronavirus infections after the Wuhan games and said the Defense Department supports an investigation.
But the report notes that the government wouldn’t have known about possible infections because national security officials from the Trump administration said the idea to test the military athletes upon their return from Wuhan never came up.
The State Department’s only consideration of the Military World Games happened in March, 2020, when the Chinese Communist Party, in an attempt to sow disinformation, claimed that Army personnel from a bioresearch lab in Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., carried the disease to Wuhan.
“We were aware in the administration of the Chinese government’s misinformation campaign accusing the U.S. military of bringing COVID to Wuhan at those games, which obviously we didn’t take seriously and didn’t consider to be a good-faith effort to get to the bottom of it,” David Feith, a former State Department official, told the Washington Post.
“To the extent there are now or there were all along credible reports of sick athletes from those games, we should certainly chase them down and learn more,” he said.
“If the Biden administration is as serious as it claims to be regarding investigating the pandemic’s origins, it must go back and test all the U.S. military personnel who were in Wuhan for antibodies and then attempt to trace any outbreaks that might have come from their trip to the games,” the columnist wrote.