The top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has urged China to release information about six workers ill after working in a mine in the province of Yunnan in 2012, and are now seen as a key part of efforts to find the origins of COVID 19.
In April 2012, the workers, aged 30 to 63, scrubbing a copper seam clean of bat faeces was done. Weeks later, they were admitted to a hospital in the province capital of Kunming with persistent coughs, fevers, head and chest pains and breathing difficulties. three died eventually.
The mine is located in Wuhan in southwest China, about 1,500 kms from Mojiang, where COVID-19 was identified first.
Though the full biographical details of the six workers have not been published, their surnames, ages and medical records were written in a 2013 thesis published by an undergraduate student named Li Xu at Kunming Medical University.
Li's study, which is still available on China's scientific paper archive at cnki.net, examines each patient's symptoms and concludes they were victims of a SARS-like coronavirus contracted from horseshoe bats.
Scientists from the site that returned to the mine at the end of 2012 found samples of a pathogen that came to be known as the Mojiang virus, found in rats and unrelated to SARS-CoV 2. Subsequent research was unable to confirm whether it was caused by miners' illness in them.
According to Chinese bat coronavirus - researcher Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, workers' pneumonia-like symptoms were caused by a fungal infection. Shi and her team also stated in a study published last November that they had tested 13 serum samples from four of the patients and found no sign they had been infected with SARS-CoV 2.
Since the middle of last year, Li's postgraduate thesis has been circulated online as purported evidence that a coronavirus very similar to SARS-CoV 2 could have been infecting humans as early as 2012.
Some also believe the paper provides circumstantial evidence for broader allegations that Wav had found, studied and conducted gain of function experiments on viruses found in the mine including RaTG 13.
First identified in 2016, RTG 13 shares 96.2% of its genome with SARS-CoV-2 according to a paper released by Wuhan early in February 2020, just weeks after the initial COVID 19 cases had been identified in Shi.
From 2012 to 2015 WIV researchers found as many as 293 coronaviruses in and around the mine.
In November 2020, the institute disclosed the existence of eight other coronavirus samples taken from the site, which were like sARS-type.
In a preprint the following month, Shi and others researchers said that none of the eight found a closer match to SARS --CoV 2 than RaTG 13. Crucially, none of them possessed the key receptor binding domain that allows SARS-CoV 2 to infect humans so efficiently.
The paper concluded that the experimental evidence does not support claims that SARS-CoV - 2 was transmogmented from the lab and asked for a more systematic and longitudinal sampling of bats, pangolins or other possible intermediate animals to understand where the pandemic originated.