The Wuhan virology laboratory that has been at the center of theories about the origins of the novel coronavirus allegedly saw a "hazardous" event last fall.
According to NBC News, an analysis of cellphone records have suggested that the lab, which studied a number of viruses, including coronaviruses, shut down for a period of time last October.
According to a new report, there was reportedly no cellphone activity in a high-security area of the Wuhan Institute of Virology from October 7 to October 24, 2019. Experts have accordingly hypothesized that a "hazardous event" occurred at the laboratory between October 6 and October 11.
As a result, the document concluded from its findings that the coronavirus pandemic might have begun "earlier than initially reported" and "supports the release of COVID-19 at the Wuhan Institute of Virology."
That said, the new claims do not offer finite proof that the lab was shut down, and its conclusion remains controversial.
However, the claim of a weeklong cellphone blackout at the Wuhan lab adds to the mystery surrounding the facility, which had been on the radar of U.S. officials for the past two years due to concerns about its lackluster safety measures. In fact, leaked classified cables had even warned that the lab could cause a SARS-like pandemic, via The Washington Post.
Moreover, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed less than a week ago that there was "enormous evidence" that COVID-19 was "man-made" in the Wuhan laboratory.
Pompeo stopped shy of officially accusing the Chinese government of creating the virus, instead claiming that he trusted U.S. intelligence findings, which have so far maintained that the virus was likely spread from an animal at one of Wuhan's wet markets. The animal-to-human transmission is also the theory espoused by the scientific community at large.
Unsurprisingly, the recent NBC report has not been without its fair share of criticism. One major reason behind the skepticism is the fact that the report initially falsely claimed that a conference at the lab in November was cancelled, when in fact it was held without issue.
Those behind the report claimed that an annotation had been made in the second version of the document that acknowledged the conference did indeed take place.
In addition, one U.S. official looked at the report and concluded that the data "looks really weak to me and some of the conclusions don't make sense."
U.S. intelligence had previously looked at cellphone data during their investigation into the laboratory's potential links to the coronavirus pandemic. However, after comparing publicly available data with their own information, the spy agencies deemed the reports on any shutdown in the lab to be "inconclusive."