The coronavirus may have originated at a Chinese mine in 2012 where workers came down with a pneumonia-like illness, according to scientists.
The six miners were removing bat faeces from the Mojian pit in southwestern China’s Yunnan province.
They developed a high fever, a dry cough, and in some cases headaches – with three of them eventually dying.
Virologist Jonathan Latham and molecular biologist Allison Wilson have since translated a thesis from the Chinese doctor who treated the miners and sent samples to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for tests.
In an article published on their website Independent Science News on July 15, the pair wrote: “The evidence it contains has led us to reconsider everything we thought we knew about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The coronavirus is widely thought to have emerged in December last year after a cluster of cases at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan.
Latham and Wilson said the pair said all the symptoms the miners suffered are now associated with Covid-19, the New York Post reports.
They were also treated in a similar manner to coronavirus patients, with ventilation and drugs including steroids and blood thinners.
Having carried out multiple tests, the doctor spoke with virologist Zhong Nanshan, a famed scientist who helped manage the SARS outbreak of 2003.
Latham and Wilson said: “The remote meeting with Zhong Nanshan is significant.
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“It implies that the illnesses of the six miners were of high concern and, second, that a SARS-like coronavirus was considered a likely cause.”
Researchers at the Wuhan lab found the source of infection was a SARS-like coronavirus from a Chinese rufous horseshoe bat, according to the thesis.
Latham and Wilson believe the virus mutated inside the miners, and that the samples somehow escaped from the lab last year, triggering the pandemic.
Chinese officials have repeatedly denied claims that the virus originated in the lab.
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