China refused to part with critical raw patient data of its early COVID cases, which broke out in December in the country, to the expert team of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that had gone to investigate if the coronavirus that caused the disease originated from Wuhan.
This information has been disclosed by one of the WHO team members, Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert. He was part of an international team tasked with studying the origins of the COVID pandemic. During its four-week visit to China, the team was reportedly stumped when China failed to share raw patient data of 174 of its COVID-19 cases, Dwyer revealed.
Half of these 174 cases had exposure to the Huanan market, the seafood market in Wuhan where the virus first sprung up and was crucial for the investigation.
This raw data, called as “line listings”, contains key details like the questions posed to individual patients, their responses and the analysis of their answers. This has to be studied as a standard practice in an outbreak investigation, said Dwyer. But, the Chinese shared just a generalised summary of these cases with the team.
Dwyer told media persons that he could not comment on why the team did not receive the data. “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,” he said, reported Reuters. His statement again raises questions on whether China had really opened its doors for the team to probe how and why the deadly virus spread so rapidly across the world killing millions of people.
However, WHO team members have earlier said that the Chinese authorities had been collaborative during the visit. Dwyer also said that the country shared a lot more data than the team had ever received the previous year. They may have had arguments but that was natural in such investigations. But this issue of not receiving the raw patient data will be mentioned in the team’s final report, which is scheduled to be released next week.
The WHO investigation was always mired with politics as China allegedly dragged its feet over giving access to external independent agencies the opportunity to study the causes and impact of the outbreak in China. The team was escorted to places only organised by its Chinese hosts.
Neither the WHO nor the Chinese foreign ministry have commented on this recent development.
Beijing meanwhile has tried to shift the attention to imported frozen food as the cause of the virus. This theory was further endorsed by Peter Ben Embarek, who led the WHO delegation, when he told a news conference that transmission of the virus via frozen food is a possibility. But, he also pointed to market vendors selling frozen animal products including farmed wild animals as a potential pathway that warrants further study.
Scientists have said that to pin down the animal sources of an outbreak reportedly requires massive amounts of research, including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.
The long-awaited international probe was agreed upon by Beijing after many months of negotiations with the WHO.