WHO, advisers urge China to release all COVID-related data after new research By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Dominic Dwyer, a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks around their hotel in Wuhan, province of Hubei, China on February 6, 2021. REUTERS / Aly Song / File Photo


(Reuters) – World Health Organization advisers on Saturday urged China to release all information relating to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic after new findings were briefly shared on a database international standard used to track pathogens.

New SARS-CoV-2 virus sequences and additional genomic data based on samples collected from a live animal market in Wuhan, China, in 2020 were briefly uploaded to the GISAID database by Chinese scientists earlier this year, allowing them to be viewed by researchers in other countries, according to the statement from the WHO Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of New Pathogens (SAGO).

The footage suggested raccoon dogs were on the market and may also have been infected with the coronavirus, providing a new clue in the chain of transmission that eventually reached humans.

Access to the information was then restricted “apparently to allow for further data updates” by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

WHO officials discussed the matter with Chinese colleagues, who explained that the new data was intended to be used to update a preprint study from 2022. The Chinese CDC plans to resubmit the article to the scientific journal Nature for publication, according to the release.

WHO officials say this information, while inconclusive, represents a new lead in the investigation into the origins of COVID and should have been shared immediately.

“These data do not provide a definitive answer to the question of how the pandemic started, but every piece of data is important in bringing us closer to that answer,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday. “This data could have – and should have – been shared three years ago.”

“We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data, to conduct necessary investigations and to share results,” he said.

SAGO has been tasked by the WHO with continuing to investigate the origins of the pandemic which has killed nearly 7 million people worldwide.

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was closed by Chinese authorities after the novel coronavirus emerged in the city in late 2019. The market has since been under investigation to determine whether the virus had infected several other species before spreading to humans.

The WHO and other scientists have also said they cannot rule out the possibility that the virus emerged from a high-security lab in Wuhan that studies dangerous pathogens. China denies any such link.

The 2022 preprint document said a small portion of 923 samples taken from stalls and sewage systems in and around the market tested positive for the virus; no virus was detected in the 457 animal samples tested. The newspaper initially stated that raccoon dogs were not among the animals tested.

The new analysis suggests “that the raccoon dog and other animals may have been present before the market was cleared as part of the public health response,” the SAGO statement said.


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