The Jerusalem Post wrote in Jan 2021

A prominent scientist from the city of Wuhan in China, who has received the title "the world's first COVID-19 patient," has been missing for a year now.

According to various reports, Huang Yanling was the first person in the world to experience the symptoms of coronavirus, currently raging throughout the world. She was the first one to be diagnosed with the disease towards the end of 2019, before we even knew what it was.

The virology researcher has been missing for over a year. During that time, many theories have surfaced about the reasons for her disappearance.

The Daily Mirror was only slightly more skeptical

The researcher, who worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology is thought to have been the first to contract Covid in autumn 2019, before it was officially acknowledged.

The claims suggested a link between the pandemic and the institute - which houses zoonotic bat diseases - and sparked fears the bug had been accidentally leaked during experiments.

State officials and lab agents were quick to rubbish the reports at the time and remove them from the internet.

They claimed Huang was safe and had simply moved jobs, with a Chinese news agency even claiming to have spoken her new employer.

But China is yet to produce the scientist physically despite numerous requests from the US State Department to stop hiding information.

A post claiming to be from the scientist later appeared on the WeChat messaging service telling colleagues she was alive and claiming the reports were false.

It read: "To my teachers and fellow students, how long no speak. I am Huang Yanling, still alive. If you receive any email [regarding the Covid rumour], please say it’s not true."

But since then Huang appears to have disappeared from social media and there is no longer any mention of her name on the institute's website.

About the same time The Sun titled

Photo emerges ‘showing patient zero at Wuhan lab’ three years after bosses claimed she left and never to returned [sic]

However, the photo clearly had been uncovered almost a year before; it's found for instance in this April 2020 YouTube video that has over 2M views (and which also says "most people believe her to be patient zero").

So it's a bit unclear to me what the sudden discovery in Jan 2021 was. I'm guessing slow news day combined maybe with the Trump administration's release on Jan 15 of some similar claims (which did not name her specifically though.) On the other hand, [the US[ NIH was interested in her whereabouts, although not for any stated reason besides her "apparent disappearance".

So, is Huang Yanling really the first person diagnosed or infected with Covid-19?

  • 13
    Is there a single "symptoms of coronavirus" that isn't also a flulike symptom? In the absence of molecular diagnostics or serology I'm not sure what symptoms this could possibly be referring to. Pneumonia of an unknown etiology?
    – CJR
    Jun 8, 2021 at 17:50
  • 4
    For the specifics on this question, I would expect a positive answer would note how they determined it was covid and not something else. "Covid like symptoms", as previously noted, is not particularly good evidence, even circumstantially.
    – user11643
    Jun 8, 2021 at 18:42
  • If it's interesting at all, this video from a year ago is a great skeptical investigation following the game of telephone behind the "lab escape" rumour from that time, as synthesised by that video you linked to, and covers among other things Huang Yanling (from roughly 8 minutes in): youtube.com/watch?v=ab-r0capbzk — though I must note that it isn't able to say anything more about her than the others have said here.
    – mystery
    Jun 9, 2021 at 19:40
  • @CJR AFAIK loss of taste and smell senses is a coronavirus symptom that does not occur with the flu.
    – obe
    Jun 13, 2021 at 10:42

1 Answer 1


There is simply no basis to the rumor that Huang Yanling ever had Covid or was even in Wuhan in 2019. The official line from the WIV and Chinese government is that she left Wuhan in 2015.

In response, Huang's supervisor Wei Hongping said, "Huang Yanling has been working in another city since her graduation in July 2015. I called her and confirmed that she is in good health and everything is fine."

In support of this, Chinese webizens found two patents that she filed in 2017 and 2018 on behalf of a biotech firm in Chengdu. The company that owns the patents confirmed in 2020 that she is still employed there and that she refused to video herself due to feeling anxiety about being targeted by China's human flesh search engine. She has a reasonable right to privacy and is under no legal obligation to show her face.

The Sun alleges that the WIV showed her in a photo of a New Year's party in 2018, which has now been deleted. But as you can see from the archived post there are no names attributed to the photo. Someone else edited the photo later and circled what they decided was Huang's face; others added her name. (Because Huang's photo was not on the WIV website how do we know what her face looks like?) Furthermore, even if Huang appeared in this photo, in East Asia it is common to visit friends during the New Year's holidays.

  • 17
    Yeah... a lot of this could be explained by coverup efforts, but two patents on behalf of an unrelated biotech firm in a different city from a year or more before the pandemic was a thing seems like solid enough evidence to shoot this particular theory in the head unless something a lot more compelling comes up in support of it.
    – Ben Barden
    Jun 8, 2021 at 22:24
  • 13
    @BenBarden I don't really see how patent filing places a person anywhere... I've filed patents, and never left my home town, which I'm pretty sure is not some patent-centrally located place.
    – user11643
    Jun 9, 2021 at 2:22
  • 10
    @fredsbend If she's filing multiple patents on behalf of a company in Chengdu, then she's no longer working for the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the firm she's working for is in Chengdu rather than Wuhan, then the likelihood is that she is also in Chengdu... and if this was all happening well before the coronavirus epidemic became a thing, then there wasn't any motivation to falsify any of it at the time. Between that and her publication history, it paints a pretty strong picture of "left town and went into industry".
    – Ben Barden
    Jun 9, 2021 at 13:41
  • 13
    "The official line from the WIV and Chinese government"... I don't think either of those is more reputable a source than those making the claims, by a fair margin.
    – tuskiomi
    Jun 9, 2021 at 17:15
  • 10
    For what it's worth, I have a bunch of US Patents. They were all issued during a 4 year period right after I moved and changed jobs. I'm shown in the patent as living in the town I where I live in Texas. The Assignee is my previous employer in Massachusetts (although the company name changed one month after I left the company). I'm listed as an inventor since I was a key member of the team that includes the other inventors, and I was the principal contributor to a handful of the inventions. Location doesn't mean much on a patent.
    – Flydog57
    Jun 9, 2021 at 22:07

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