Scientists conducting research on novel coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were the first humans to contract COVID-19, according to a new report.

“Patients zero” included Ben Hu, Ping Yu and Yan Zhu — scientists researching SARS-like viruses at the institute, according to an investigation by journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi published on the Substack newsletter Public.

The three scientists were researching “gain-of-function” experiments with the virus — which increases its infectiousness and makes pathogens stronger in order to better understand their dangers — when they became sick in the fall of 2019, multiple US government officials reportedly told the journalists.

The new details were revealed about four months after FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau believes that the horrific COVID-19 virus responsible for millions of deaths likely originated from an accidental outbreak at a Chinese lab.

“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan, China,” Wray said in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier.

In 2019, two of the allegedly infected scientists, Hu and Yu, co-authored a paper about the genetic lineage of SARS-related coronavirus in bats across China that they had studied.

“Patients zero” included Ben Hu, Ping Yu and Yan Zhu — scientists who conducted research on SARS-like viruses at the institute, according to the journalists’ investigation. AP

Hu studied under virologist Shi Zhengli who is known as “the bat woman of China” for her research on SARS-like coronaviruses of bat origin. Zhengli has come under intense scrutiny since the outbreak of COVID-19 was traced back to Wuhan.

“Ben Hu is essentially the next Shi Zhengli,” Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, told Public. “He was her star pupil. He had been making chimeric SARS-like viruses and testing these in humanized mice. If I had to guess who would be doing this risky virus research and most at risk of getting accidentally infected, it would be him.”

A 2017 video aired by Chinese state-run television reportedly shows Hu watching a lab worker handle specimens while neither is wearing protective gear, according to Public.

“If they were worried about being infected in the field, they would need full body suits with no gaps,” said Chan, who co-authored the book “Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19.”

“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan, China,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in February. AFP via Getty Images

She added that scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology conducted their research at a lower biohazard safety level of BSL-2 “when we now know that the pandemic virus is even capable of escaping from a BSL-3 lab and infecting fully vaccinated young lab workers.”

The US State Department has previously acknowledged suspicions that the COVID pandemic may have originated from a lab leak.

“The US government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the [Wuhan Institute of Virology] became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses,” the department stated in a now-archived fact sheet published on Jan. 15, 2021.

China has denied the lab-leak theories and accused the US of politicizing the issue.AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Energy, in late February, determined with “low confidence” that the virus responsible for the pandemic originated in a Chinese laboratory.

Dr. Shi has repeatedly denied the allegations that her or her students’ research caused the devastating pandemic due to a lab leak.

She called the allegations that multiple of her colleagues had gotten ill with similar symptoms to COVID-19 before the outbreak emerged baseless and said that her lab did not hold any source of the strain that caused the pandemic in a June 2021 interview with the New York Times.

“I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist,” she said over text.

China has also slammed the lab-leak theory and accused the FBI of “politicizing” the issue.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is required to submit an declassified report on the lab leak investigation to Congress by Sunday.AFP via Getty Images

The alternate origin theory suggests that the virus was transmitted from animals to humans at one of Wuhan’s many animal markets which sold dozens of species known to carry pathogens that were dangerous to people.

US officials are still investigating the disease’s origins. Following the FBI director’s remarks, the White House said there remains no “consensus” as to where COVID-19 came from.

The National Intelligence Council, and at least four other government agencies, contend with “low confidence” that the virus spread as a result of natural transmission from an infected animal to a human.

The Chinese government has refused to allow any independent investigators to look into the accusations that COVID-19 originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — which has fueled international speculation and demands for transparency.

President Biden signed a bill in March that requires the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify all information relating to investigations between the Wuhan Institute and the origins of COVID-19 and send the info in a report to Congress. The law specifically requests details on the identities and roles of the researchers who got sick in the fall of 2019.

The unclassified report is due to Congress by Sunday.

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