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The N.Y. Post wrote in August 2020:

In April 2012, six miners in the Mojiang mine in southwestern China’s Yunnan province fell ill after spending more than 14 days removing bat feces. Three eventually died.

In his thesis, the physician Li Xu, who treated the miners, describes how the patients had a high fever, a dry cough, sore limbs and, in some cases, headaches — all symptoms now associated with COVID-19, said Latham and Wilson.

How the miners were treated — for example, with ventilation and a variety of drugs including steroids, blood thinners and antibiotics — also resembles how COVID-19 patients are being treated worldwide, they said. [...]

The doctor also sent sample tissues from the miners to the Wuhan lab, a focal point of coronavirus research in China. There, scientists 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 — once inside the miners — “evolved” into SARS CoV-2, “an unusually pathogenic coronavirus highly adapted to humans,” and the samples somehow escaped from the lab last year, launching what has morphed into the coronavirus pandemic.

The Federalist has a longer piece which contains an interview with one of the authors (Latham) of the original piece and it says quoting him

Our proposition is quite simple — that the hospital sent samples to Wuhan from the miners and what evolved inside the miners was SARS-CoV-2.

And likewise the very long original article eventually gets to:

We suggest, first, that inside the miners RaTG13 (or a very similar virus) evolved into SARS-CoV-2, an unusually pathogenic coronavirus highly adapted to humans. Second, that the Shi lab used medical samples taken from the miners and sent to them by Kunming University Hospital for their research. It was this human-adapted virus, now known as SARS-CoV-2­, that escaped from the WIV in 2019.

If the virus was identified (as a coronavirus) in 2012 and it's exactly SARS-CoV-2 as opposed some relative, why was the SARS-CoV-2 sequence unknown (to the wider scientific) until it [re]emerged in Wuhan 8 years later? Something doesn't quite add up here, even with China's bureaucracy penchant for covering up bad news.

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    Well, China doesn't seem in any rush to publish more on this (and by that I mean they seem to be censoring their own researchers now, so I guess it's gonna be down to speculation from old publications, for a while at least.) Still despite the rush of DVs with no explanation (which seem very common on Skeptics nowadays), this q may be answerable just from what was published... This is a specific hypothesis that may have a specific rebuttal, it's not "what's the origin?"
    – Fizz
    Jan 1 at 19:03
  • I find it interesting that questions about the appearance of the virus in Europe (earlier than commonly thought) don't get DV too... e.g. skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/50003/… has +3 / -0 votes.
    – Fizz
    Jan 1 at 19:08
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    Perhaps the downvotes were for the original NYPost-only version of the question (since that tabloid has a certain reputation)? Adding the link to the original article was a substantial improvement. Jan 1 at 23:45
  • Were the six part of a larger group? If 100% of the miners got sick, and 50% died, that doesn't match the morbidity of COVID-19. Jan 3 at 17:40
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    @RebeccaJ.Stones: I think you've missed "evolved into SARS-CoV-2 in specific people [a few miners] in a specific place [location, location]". Or are you merely quibbling that I used "appeared" as a shorthand for "evolved from another virus"? Would you be happy with "originated" instead in the title?
    – Fizz
    Jan 7 at 15:54
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According to a Nov 17, 2020 "addendum" paper by Shi et al. published in Nature, the conserved serum samples from those miners were recently retested and do not test positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies:

Between 1 July and 1 October 2012, we received 13 serum samples collected from 4 patients (one of whom was deceased) who showed severe respiratory disease. These patients had visited a mine cave in Tongguan town, Mojiang County, Yunnan Province, China, to clean bat faeces in order to mine copper before being admitted to the First Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University on 26–27 April 2012. The samples we received were collected by the hospital staff in June, July, August and September 2012. To investigate the cause of the respiratory disease, we tested the samples using PCR methods developed in our laboratory targeting the RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRp) of Ebola virus, Nipah virus and bat SARSr-CoV Rp3, and all of the samples were negative for the presence of these viruses. We also tested the serum samples for the presence of antibodies against the nucleocapsid proteins of these three viruses, and none of the samples gave a positive result. Recently, we retested the samples with our validated enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) against the SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) nucleocapsid protein—which has greater than 90% amino acid sequence identity with bat SARSr-CoV Rp3—and confirmed that these patients were not infected by SARS-CoV-2.

The next (and last) para recounts how RaTG13 was discovered, but this was basically from the mine, not from the miners.

Of course, it would be more useful if they had e.g. bronchoalveolar samples conserved (from the miners) on which one could a PCR rather than ELISA (antibodies tests) on serum samples.

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  • Why was this downvoted? Looks like a good, clear,, well-sourced answer to me. If anyone sees any fault in it please share what that fault is in a comment Feb 12 at 22:29
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    Shi is the scientist being investigated by the WHO, under suspicion that the virus leaked from her lab. Not sure that her account should be considered reliable.
    – Avery
    Feb 13 at 0:10
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    @user56reinstatemonica8 Run those samples on a Roche/Cobas/Drosten/any PCR for enough cycles and you do get a 'positive' match. What's more, here we see a Chewbacca defense, not a sequencing of whole genome perpetrator… Neither lab-leak nor anything is proven or disproven with this kind of distraction. at-Fizz "exactly" is a problem here: Wuhan-nCov-Dec-2019 is now extinct for some time; too many mutations taking over its place. Why would SARS-CoV2 be 'exactly' to be found in any miners long ago? We need a lineage, maybe even 'direct', but not a 'single suspect'/identical… Feb 13 at 20:49

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