Two State Department cables in 2018 warned that a new laboratory in Wuhan did not have enough trained personnel to operate it safely while it was studying SARS-like coronaviruses isolated from bats, according to the cables that were published on Friday after a Freedom of Information Act request.

A cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on January 19, 2018, notified Washington that China had opened the Wuhan Institute of Virology, its first Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory, and that the lab’s leadership considered it ready for research on class-four pathogens (P4) — the most virulent viruses that pose a high risk of person-to-person transmission.

However, the cable warned there was a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.” It also noted “a lack of clarity in related Chinese government policies and guidelines,” and that China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) had not given the lab permission to initiate research on highly contagious pathogens.

Despite these limitations, the lab was able to undertake productive research on SARS-like coronaviruses, the cable said.