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China refused to provide data on early COVID cases, WHO chief says Wuhan lab questionable

Christian Fernsby |
China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to a World Health Organization-led team probing the origins of the pandemic, one of the team's investigators said, potentially complicating efforts to understand how the outbreak began.

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Topics: CHINA    WHO    WUHAN   

The team had requested raw patient data on the 174 cases of COVID-19 that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, as well as other cases, but were only provided with a summary, said Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert who is a member of the team.

Such raw data is known as "line listings", he said, and would typically be anonymised but contain details such as what questions were asked of individual patients, their responses and how their responses were analysed.

"That's standard practice for an outbreak investigation," he told Reuters on Saturday via video call from Sydney, where he is currently undergoing quarantine.

He said that gaining access to the raw data was especially important since only half of the 174 cases had exposure to the Huanan market, the now-shuttered wholesale seafood centre in Wuhan where the virus was initially detected.

"That's why we've persisted to ask for that," he said. "Why that doesn't happen, I couldn't comment. Whether it's political or time or it's difficult ... But whether there are any other reasons why the data isn't available, I don't know. One would only speculate."

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday issued a statement on the theory and team’s investigation in Wuhan. Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the team, earlier this week claimed the lab leak theory was unlikely and didn’t require more investigation.

But Tedros appeared to dispute Embarek’s comments, saying more investigation is warranted.

“The independent expert team to study the origins of the COVID-19 virus has completed its trip to China … The expert team is still working on its final report, and we look forward to receiving both the report and a full briefing,” Tedros remarked, while adding that the investigation has “been a very important scientific exercise in very difficult circumstances.”

He went on to say: “Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded. I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.” Tedros did not elaborate.

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