The source said the reports are contained in a nearly 200-page annex published alongside the WHO panel’s March report which received little attention from global experts at the time. But the data may add weight to calls from critics of China for more transparency and the WHO team’s desire to return to the country for further studies.
No date has been set for the team’s return to China, but the source said any future visits to the country – where the virus emerged in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, in the end of 2019 – could involve “smaller groups supporting specific studies.” first. A larger group, similar to the 17 international experts who visited in January, could then follow up, the source added.
The annex to the WHO report contains several data points that provide fascinating insight into China’s evolving knowledge of the virus and the likely time of its emergence.
Provides details on China’s storage and destruction of positive Covid-19 samples from humans; a major influenza epidemic that appeared in December 2019, at the same time as the virus; and the revelation that the first people known to contract the virus came into contact with a total of 28 separate food and animal markets in December.
The team hopes to clarify the data in the annex to the WHO report, the source said, including a striking reference to large-scale testing by Chinese authorities of animals susceptible to the virus, dated the first week of December 2019. The first human case of the virus recognized by China fell ill the day after these tests, on December 8 of that year.
On page 98, the appendix states that on December 7, 2019, samples were taken from 69 types of animals, including macaques, musk deer, porcupines and bamboo rats. The samples were tested in February 2020 for the virus which would later be labeled SARS-CoV-2 and found negative, according to a statement from the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC) in response to questions from CNN.
The existence of the samples had not been made public until the WHO team report. The source close to the WHO panel said the coincident timing of the sample collection led their experts to remark “it’s strange.”
The entry may have been poorly worded, the source added. The source said the WHO panel accepted Chinese scientists’ explanation that this was routine screening, but the panel wanted to look at the raw data because those samples had clearly been stored.
In its statement, the NHC said the samples mentioned in the appendix were collected between February and December 2019, because “before the coronavirus epidemic, the relevant departments were actively monitoring major animal diseases in artificial breeding plants of wild animals in Hubei province ”. It is not clear from the statement whether the samples tested in February 2020 were only from December 7 or a wider period in 2019.
The NHC statement added: “As part of the active surveillance network, samples of wild animals were collected based on the activity routines of wild animals, and apart from regular collection and testing, these samples were collected. samples were stored correctly as needed. After the coronavirus outbreak, researchers performed retrospective testing on these samples. “
The source close to the panel said that a potentially revealing part of the March 2020 report that still requires further examination was the excess mortality data in China provided for January 2020 – which could show the first deaths from the virus.
“The excess mortality figures appearing in the third week of January in Wuhan, and a little later in Hubei, can be traced back to these infections somewhere in the second half of December,” the source said. “This shows substantial undetected traffic in December in Wuhan and then later in Hubei. “
The source said the data showed the infection likely started in Wuhan City, the provincial capital of Hubei, and not the rest of the province surrounding the city.
“You probably had a few sporadic cases in November already,” they said. “But not in substantial numbers – so start spreading very slowly, then spread very slowly. “
China’s decision to destroy the first samples of the virus is also exposed in the report’s annex. On page 116, he says the first tissue samples of virus cases from a key hospital in Wuhan, Xinhua, were destroyed at the start of the epidemic. The source said the panel established that the samples were destroyed in the spring of 2020 and that was “a shame, because with hindsight, these samples are not available.”
The annex says China’s privacy laws have prevented the retention of samples. The source close to the panel also accepted China’s rationale for not having “hundreds of thousands of potentially live samples sitting in hundreds of hospitals and clinics” at a time when their health system “was struggling at most. height of the epidemic. “
The strains on the medical system are also visible in the annex. It said Xinhua Hospital recorded a 40% increase in “outpatient visits to fever clinics” in December 2019, compared to the same month a year earlier. Several data points in the report and its appendix reveal a widespread influenza epidemic in and around Hubei province at the end of 2019.
Leaked documents reported by CNN revealed the flu epidemic in December 2019, showing a significant spike in Wuhan but also in other cities of Hubei at the end of this year. The cause and consequences of the influenza-like illness outbreak remain uncertain.
The source said the peak showed “that there was a large influenza epidemic occurring more or less at the same time” as the emergence of the coronavirus. The simultaneous emergence of the flu epidemic with the first cases of the virus “explains the difficulties in identifying Covid cases in December and early January,” the source said. The impact of the flu peak on the detection of the first cases of the new coronavirus is still unknown.
Important details are also provided in the appendix on the first known case of the virus – a person who reportedly showed symptoms on December 8.
The appendix gives, for the first time, more details on the case: a man says he is an accountant working for his family business, without “any evidence of high-risk exposures (wild animals, mass gatherings, contact with health facilities, contact with a symptomatic individual, travel, etc.) ”
He used public transport, but did not leave Wuhan and had a relative working in health care. The appendix states that this first patient was not exposed to the Huanan seafood market, the animal trade hotspot believed to have played a role in the disease’s first emergence. With further study, its central role in the outbreak has become less clear, the appendix reveals.
On page 178, the appendix indicates that only a third of the first cases had market exposure, and about a quarter of the first cases that had market exposure, had contact with a total of 27 other markets. The first patient had a relative who visited a “wet market” where live animals are traded. But the patient himself had no contact with such a “wet market” and in fact only visited one RT Mart – a joint grocery chain – in Jiangxia district, more than 20 kilometers away. (12 miles) from Huanan Market. .
The source said increased details of the number of early cases on display at the Huanan market made it more difficult to establish its role in the virus’ first spread, but that did not completely rule out the market as being a point of concern. introduction to Wuhan, ”they said.
One of the main challenges of the investigation, according to the source, was how, in early December, only severe cases of the virus would have been detected – a small subset of the total infected. “By early December you must have had dozens if not hundreds of cases in the market that would never have been picked up,” they said. “These could be the ones that would give us clues about the role of the market in the city. “
The source said the panel wanted better access to past cases and the least severe possible Covid-19 patient information, if available. “It was difficult to judge without having a clear understanding of the link between all these cases. Some of them were friends or colleagues. And spend a lot of time together playing cards in between to take care of their stores. Others had nothing to do with each other. “
In March, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China welcomed the investigation by the WHO team. “China has always been a supporter of global scientific research into the source of the virus and its routes of transmission,” he added.