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UPDATE 3-China refused to provide WHO team with raw data on early COVID cases, team member says

Brenda Goh
·4 min read

(Adds comment from WHO mission member Peter Daszak)

By Brenda Goh

SHANGHAI, Feb 13 (Reuters) - China refused to give raw dataon early COVID-19 cases to a World Health Organization-led teamprobing the origins of the pandemic, one of the team'sinvestigators said, potentially complicating efforts tounderstand how the outbreak began.

The team had requested raw patient data on 174 cases thatChina had identified from the early phase of the outbreak in thecity of Wuhan in December 2019, as well as other cases, but wereonly provided with a summary, said Dominic Dwyer, an Australianinfectious diseases expert who is a member of the team.

Such raw data is known as "line listings", he said, andwould typically be anonymised but contain details such as whatquestions were asked of individual patients, their responses andhow their responses were analysed.

"That's standard practice for an outbreak investigation," hetold Reuters on Saturday via video call from Sydney, where he iscurrently undergoing quarantine.

He said that gaining access to the raw data was especiallyimportant since only half of the 174 cases had exposure to theHuanan market, the now-shuttered wholesale seafood centre inWuhan where the virus was initially detected.

"That's why we've persisted to ask for that," Dwyer said."Why that doesn't happen, I couldn't comment. Whether it'spolitical or time or it's difficult ... But whether there areany other reasons why the data isn't available, I don't know.One would only speculate."

While the Chinese authorities provided a lot of material, hesaid the issue of access to the raw patient data would bementioned in the team's final report. "The WHO people certainlyfelt that they had received much much more data than they hadever received in the previous year. So that in itself is anadvance."

A summary of the team's findings could be released as earlyas next week, the WHO said on Friday.

The probe had been plagued by delay, concern over access andbickering between Beijing and Washington, which accused China ofhiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised theterms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted thefirst phase of research.

The team, which arrived in China in January and spent fourweeks looking into the origins of the outbreak, was limited tovisits organised by their Chinese hosts and prevented fromcontact with community members, due to health restrictions. Thefirst two weeks were spent in hotel quarantine.

China's refusal to hand over raw data on the early COVID-19cases was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal and theNew York Times on Friday.

The WHO did not reply to a request from Reuters for comment.The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately reply to arequest for comment but Beijing has previously defended itstransparency in handling the outbreak and its cooperation withthe WHO mission.

HARMONIOUS, WITH ARGUMENTS

Dwyer said the work within the WHO team was harmonious butthat there were "arguments" at times with their Chinesecounterparts over the interpretation and significance of thedata, which he described as "natural" in such probes.

"We might be having a talk about cold chain and they mightbe more firm about what the data shows than what we might havebeen, but that's natural. Whether there's political pressure tohave different opinions, I don't know. There may well be, butit's hard to know."

Cold chain refers to the transport and trade of frozen food.

Peter Daszak, a zoologist and another member of the WHOmission, however tweeted on Saturday https://twitter.com/PeterDaszak/status/1360551108565999619that he had a different experience as the lead of the mission'sanimal and environment working group.

"I found trust & openness w/ my China counterparts. We DIDget access to critical new data throughout. We DID increase ourunderstanding of likely spillover pathways," he said in responseto the New York Times piece.

Daszak did not immediately respond to a Reuters' request forcomment.

Beijing has sought to cast doubt on the notion that thecoronavirus originated in China, pointing to imported frozenfood as a conduit.

On Tuesday, Peter Ben Embarek, who led the WHO delegation,told a news conference that transmission of the virus via frozenfood is a possibility, but pointed to market vendors sellingfrozen animal products including farmed wild animals as apotential pathway that warrants further study.(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Additional Reporting byStephanie Nebehay in Geneva, David Kirton in Shenzhen and DoinaChiacu in Washington; Editing by Franklin Paul, Tony Munroe,Shri Navaratnam and Clelia Oziel)