Independent investigators for the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday claimed that Chinese scientists refused to share raw data that might bring the world closer to understanding the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
The investigators who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Wuhan said disagreements over patient records and other issues were so tense that they sometimes erupted into shouts among the typically mild-mannered scientists on both sides.
The scientists also said China’s continued resistance to revealing information about the early days of the coronavirus outbreak makes it difficult for them to uncover important clues that could help stop future outbreaks of such dangerous diseases.
“If you are data-focused, and if you are a professional, then obtaining data is like for a clinical doctor looking at the patient and seeing them by your own eyes,” said Thea Kolsen Fischer, a Danish epidemiologist on the team.
According to several members of the WHO team, Chinese officials also urged them “to embrace the government’s narrative” about the source of the virus, including the unproven notion that it might have spread to China from abroad.
“It was my take on the entire mission that it was highly geopolitical,” Dr Fischer said and added, “Everybody knows how much pressure there is on China to be open to an investigation and also how much blame there might be associated with this.”
With regard to when the outbreak started, the team said it had not turned up evidence yet that it was earlier than China has reported.
“We asked for that on a number of occasions and they gave us some of that, but not necessarily enough to do the sorts of analyses you would do,” said Dominic Dwyer, an Australian microbiologist on the WHO team, referring to the confirmed cases.
“The Chinese scientists also acknowledged they had discovered that 92 people were hospitalized in Wuhan as early as October 2019 with symptoms such as fever and coughing. The Chinese experts said they had found no trace of Covid-19 in those people, but the tests were incomplete.”
Beijing has been slammed for initially trying to cover up the outbreak, and acting too late to stop it from spilling over into the rest of the world.
Fischer said she would have expected to find many more cases of individuals who were hospitalised with such symptoms in a city the size of Wuhan. She added that the WHO experts urged the Chinese scientists to conduct a more thorough search.
“I think it started in China… There is some evidence of circulation outside China, but it’s actually pretty light,” Dwyer said. (Financial Post)