China did little to help with COVID fight, says WHO document

Internal WHO report obtained by UK newspaper shows how Beijing stymied efforts to probe origins of virus

Fangcang shelter hospitals, China, Wuhan, coronavirus, COVID-19, Coronavirus outbreak
A convention hall in Wuhan after being converted into a facility for treating coronavirus patients. The virus is suspected to have originated in a Wuhan wet market Photo: Twitter

An internal World Health Organization document seen exclusively by a British newspaper has confirmed that Chinese authorities did “little” to look into the origins of COVID-19 in the first eight/nine months after the global outbreak.

In fact, as late as January 2021 – a full year into the global catastrophe which has so far claimed more than 2.5 million lives – Beijing was refusing to part with critical raw patient data of its early COVID cases to the WHO team that had gone to investigate if the coronavirus originated from Wuhan.

Also see: China refused to share critical raw patient data, says WHO team member

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China has been accused of consistently trying to shift the blame for COVID-19. The Guardian’s revelations show that Beijing dragged its feet over giving access to external independent agencies the opportunity to study the causes and impact of the outbreak in China.

The two-page report in question was written following a WHO visit – headed by mission leader Peter Ben Embarek – to the country in July-August 2020 and it offers, according to the newspaper, “new insights into how WHO scientists appear to have been stymied in their early efforts”.

The mission started with a two-week quarantine followed by 10 days of meetings with relevant authorities, it said.

“Following extensive discussions with and presentation from Chinese counterparts, it appears that little had been done in terms of epidemiological investigations around Wuhan since January 2020. The data presented orally gave a few more details than what was presented at the emergency committee meetings in January 2020. No PowerPoint presentations were made and no documents were shared,” the report said.

A more recent WHO trip – in January 2021 – also failed yield much result. Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert who was part of the four-week trip, said the team was reportedly stumped when China failed to share raw patient data of 174 of its COVID-19 cases. Half of these cases had exposure to the Huanan market, the seafood market in Wuhan where the virus is thought to have sprung up.

This raw data, called as “line listings”, contain 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, according to Reuters news agency.

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