Li-Meng Yan (闫丽梦), is a Chinese virologist. Yan claims she is a whistleblower who researched the COVID-19 at the University of Hong Kong, later leaving the city for the United States.
Yan believes the Chinese government and the World Health Organization knew about person-to-person transmission of COVID-19 much earlier than reported, even before releasing reports to the contrary. Her allegations against the said parties have not been corroborated with publicly available evidence, and her involvement in early COVID-19 related research concerning human-to-human transmission has been categorically denied by HKU where she worked. She is currently living and hiding in the U.S.
Yan says she was one of the first scientists in the world to study the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, after Dr. Leo Poon, her supervisor at the Hong Kong University (a WHO reference lab), asked her to look into a cluster of SARS-like cases in Wuhan, in December 2019. Yan says she maintained an extensive network of medical professionals from mainland China, one of whom told Yan about human-to-human transmission of the novel disease on December 31, 2019, the same day the Wuhan municipal government publicly announced the discovery of cases of “pneumonia with unknown origins”.
The Chinese government officially provided information to the WHO on January 3, 2020 and determined the outbreak is caused by a novel coronavirus (later known as COVID-19) on January 9.
According to Yan, she reported her findings about the virus to her superiors on January 16, after which she was warned “to keep silent and be careful,” otherwise she “will get in trouble and [will] be disappeared.” It is unclear if the findings she reported to her supervisor were information gathered from her professional network or original scientific research concerning human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.
The Chinese government announced strict lockdown measures in Wuhan and other regions of China on January 23 to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, approximately one week after Yan was allegedly warned by her superiors. The lockdown in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic, was lifted on April 8. In the same month, Yan left Hong Kong for the United States to “raise awareness about the pandemic and the Chinese government’s role in it”. She arrived at LAX and was allegedly questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for hours after which she was released.
In July 2020, a press release from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) denied her claim and stated that “Dr Yan never conducted any research on human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus at HKU during December 2019 and January 2020, her central assertion of the said interview.”
Dr. Li-Meng Yan does appear to have worked on COVID-19 related research at least after the initial phase of the pandemic. Her research article Pathogenesis and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in golden hamsters with Dr. Leo Poon, her supervisor in the Hong Kong University who allegedly warned her about COVID-19 related research in January, appears in May of 2020, after she allegedly fled Hong Kong in April. Citing the abstract from the study: “Our results suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infection in golden Syrian hamsters resemble features found in humans with mild infections.” This article was also published on the 14th of May 2020 in Nature. Another COVID-19 research article attributed to Dr. Yan appears in The Lancet published March 19th, 2020, Viral dynamics in mild and severe cases of COVID-19.
Yan received her bachelor degree from Qufu Normal University and MD degree from XiangYa Medical College of Central South University, China, and her PhD from Southern Medical University, China. Her research includes the study of The inhibition effect of propranolol on the corneal neivascularization in an alkali-induced injury mouse model. At the time of the COVID-19 pandemic she was employed at the Hong Kong School of Public Health, Hong Kong University, conducting research specialised in virology and immunology.