In October 2019, more than 9,000 international athletes from more than 100 countries traveled to Wuhan, China — and many of them later got sick with covid-19-like symptoms. But there has never been a real investigation into whether the virus that causes covid-19 was already spreading at the Wuhan Military World Games. Now, multiple U.S. lawmakers are demanding the U.S. government begin one.
The Military World Games, which are held every four years, are like the Olympics for military athletes. The games in Wuhan were the largest in the event’s history, and the Chinese government went all out. The U.S. delegation came with 280 athletes and staff representing 17 sports, ranging from wrestling to golf. (Team USA brought home the bronze in the latter competition.) During the two-week event, however, many of the international athletes noticed that something was amiss in the city of Wuhan. Some later described it as a “ghost town.”
As the covid-19 pandemic took hold worldwide in early 2020, athletes from several countries — including France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg — claimed publicly they had contracted what they believed to be covid-19 at the games in Wuhan, based on their symptoms and how their illnesses spread to their loved ones. In Washington, military leaders either dismissed the idea out of hand or weren’t aware of it. Meanwhile, no one performed any antibody testing or disease tracing on these thousands of athletes. No one even attempted to find out whether the games in Wuhan was, in fact, the first international pandemic superspreader event.
If more evidence were discovered, it would add to the growing body of evidence that the virus was circulating in Wuhan as early as October 2019, months before the Chinese government acknowledged it to the rest of the world. U.S. intelligence reports have said that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with covid-like symptoms in November 2019. But U.S. officials have said they have other information suggesting that the outbreak began even earlier.
Nailing down the timeline of the pandemic’s origin is a crucial task. The United States needs to do its best to figure it out, lawmakers are now saying, regardless of where the data leads.
By Josh Rogin