Data withheld to WHO team exploring origins of COVID-19 in China – Tedros

Data withheld to WHO team exploring origins of COVID-19 in China - Tedros

GENEVA / ZURICH (Reuters) – Data was withheld from World Health Organization investigators who traveled to China to research the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, the chief executive of the United Nations said on Tuesday. ‘WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The United States, the European Union and other Western countries immediately called on China to give independent experts “full access” to all data on the initial outbreak by the end of 2019.

In its final report, written jointly with Chinese scientists, a WHO-led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan in January and February said the virus was likely transmitted from bats to the human via another animal, and that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely” as the cause.

One of the team’s investigators has previously said that China has refused to provide raw data on the first cases of COVID-19 to the WHO-led team, which could complicate efforts to understand how the global pandemic has started.

“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they were having in accessing the raw data,” Tedros said. “I expect future collaborative studies to include faster and more comprehensive data sharing.

The inability of the WHO mission to further conclude where and how the virus began to spread among people means tensions will continue over how the pandemic began – and whether China has helped efforts for it. find out or, as the United States has alleged, hampered them.

“The study of international experts into the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and did not have access to original and complete data and samples”, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia , Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Korea, Slovenia, Great Britain, the United States and the European Union said in a joint statement.

FILE PHOTO: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) speaks at the opening of the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland , Jan. 18, 2021. Christopher Noir / WHO / Handout / File Photo / File Photo


Although the team concluded that a leak from a Wuhan lab was the least likely hypothesis for the virus responsible for COVID-19, Tedros said the problem needed further investigation, potentially with more missions. in China.

“I don’t think this assessment has gone far enough,” he told member states in remarks released by the WHO. “More data and studies will be needed to reach more solid conclusions.”

WHO team leader Peter Ben Embarek told a press briefing that it was “perfectly possible” that the virus circulated in November or October 2019 around Wuhan, and therefore potentially spread. spread abroad earlier than documented so far.

“We had access to a lot of data in many different areas, but of course there were areas where we had difficulty accessing the raw data and there are many good reasons for that”, he said, citing privacy laws and other restrictions.

Second phase studies were needed, added Ben Embarek.

He said the team had felt political pressure, including from outside China, but was never in a rush to take anything out of his final report.

Dominic Dwyer, an Australian expert on the mission, said he was convinced there was “no clear evidence” of a problem at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The European Union called the study an “important first step”, but reiterated its criticisms that the original study had started too late, that experts had been outside China for too long and that access to data and at the first samples had failed.

In a statement, Walter Stevens, EU Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, called for further study with “timely access to relevant sites and all available human, animal and environmental data”.

Report by Stephanie Nebehay, John Miller and Emma Farge; Edited by Mark Heinrich and Kevin Liffey


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