The WHO said on Friday that Chinese scientists refused to share the raw data, which could bring the world closer to understanding the origins of the coronovirus epidemic.
Investigators, who recently returned from a Fact finding trip The Chinese city of Wuhan said disagreements over patient records and other issues were so tense that they sometimes shouted at both sides, usually among light-hearted scientists.
China continued resistance to disclosing information about the early days of the coronovirus outbreak, scientists say, making it difficult for them to uncover important clues that could help prevent future outbreaks of such dangerous diseases Can.
“If you’re data-focused, and if you’re a professional,” said Thea Coulson Fisher, a Danish epidemiologist on the team, then getting the data is “like seeing a patient for a clinical doctor and seeing them with their eyes . “
For 27 days in January and February, a team of 14 experts from the World Health Organization led the mission to trace the origins of the epidemic. Many say their Chinese counterparts were disappointed by the team’s constant questioning and demand for data.
Chinese officials urged the WHO team to embrace the government’s statement about the source of the virus, including the notion that it could spread from overseas to China, according to several members of the team. Scientists at WHO responded that they would avoid making decisions without data.
Dr. “It was my opinion on the whole mission that it was highly geopolitical,” Fisher said. “Everyone knows how much pressure there is on China to be open to an investigation and how much to blame with it.”
Finally, WHO experts called for a compromise, praising the Chinese government’s transparency, but insisted on more research about the outbreak early in Wuhan in late 2019.
It is not clear whether the agreement will work. Chinese officials told the team that they did not have enough time to compile detailed patient data and only provided a summary. WHO scientists said they continued to suppress their counterparts in China for raw data and other information.
Team members consider the trip, which ended this week, as a victory mostly because they feel there is enough good will to continue the conversation and study. But he admitted that there was little information yet to answer important questions.
And he was already criticized for handing over the Chinese side Public relations victory At a closing news conference by endorsing the controversial idea that frozen food products could spread the virus.
On the important question of when the outbreak began, the team said it had not yet provided evidence that it was earlier than what China had reported. But the team was stunned several times by a lack of detailed patient records from both previously confirmed cases, and potential before.
The team of the Australian microbiologist WHO confirmed. He said, “We asked him on several occasions, but none of them is what is necessary to do your type of analysis.” .
The news that Chinese officials did not share the raw data with WHO experts was previously reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Wall Street Journal.
Chinese scientists also admitted that they had come to know that 92 people were hospitalized in Wuhan in early October 2019 with symptoms such as fever and cough. Chinese experts said they did not find any trace of Kovid-19 in those people, but tests were incomplete. Members of the WHO team said more research was needed.
Any sign that started before December 2019 will leave China open to more criticism; Chinese officials were initially widely criticized for attempting to conceal Outbreak, and it is too late to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the world.
It was never an easy journey.
The WHO mission was entangled in politics even before it began. For months, some officials in China and the United States accused each other of removing the virus from the world, without evidence. China insisted against pressure from Western countries to allow independent investigation of the source of the virus.
After months of negotiations, Beijing is relying on the WHO, which is to behold for member countries like China, agreeing to let Chinese scientists control key parts of the investigation.
And the logistics of travel already made relations more strained. WHO’s team was forced into quarantine for the first two weeks, so meetings were held on Zoom. And even when members emerged, the rule to reduce outbreaks in China meant that teams could not gather with their counterparts for food and informal interactions.
It has been difficult to understand how the Chinese side views the relationship; Many Chinese scientists who assisted in the mission did not respond to requests for comment.
The WHO team, which is expected to release a full report about its findings in the coming weeks, is still pressuring Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough examination of blood samples for signs that the virus is already running Were staying. Experts are asking China to conduct an in-depth investigation of wildlife trade in Wuhan and the surrounding area.
It is unclear whether the Chinese government as a whole – which is under firm control of research into the origin of the virus – will cooperate.
When the experts arrived in Wuhan last month, they asked to find out the earliest known cases of Kovid-19, with Chinese authorities asked to examine records for patients who had symptoms such as fever and cough in early October 2019 Was hospitalized with.
Chinese scientists, after reviewing 76,000 records at 233 medical institutions in Wuhan, told the WHO team that they had found 92 individuals who fit that description. The government conducted antibody tests on two-thirds of those people and stated that they were not positive for Kovid-19. (The other third either died or refused to be tested, Chinese scientists said.)
According to interviews with team members, the WHO scientists were disappointed by the Chinese government’s reluctance in how they collected the data.
Dr. Fisher said he would expect to find many more cases of people who were hospitalized in the city with such symptoms in the shape of Wuhan.
In heated discussion, Drs. Fisher said, WHO experts urged Chinese scientists to explore more deeply. The team also expressed concern about the reliability of antibody tests administered long after infection. It would be useful to test any original nasal or throat inflammation, but Drs. Dwyer said there was none.
Chinese officials agreed to take a more comprehensive look at samples at Wuhan blood banks in 2019, although they said they had not yet taken permission to do so.
WHO experts eventually concluded that there was no evidence yet that the virus was circulating on a wide scale in China before December 2019, but certainly more research was needed.
Chinese commentators have seized that search to build on the government’s mantra that it was possible that China was not the source of the outbreak, and urged the WHO to look elsewhere.
The WHO team said it would look, but they had doubts.
“I think it started in China,” Dr. Dwyer said after the trip. “There is some evidence of circulation outside China, but it is very mild indeed.”
During the visit, Chinese scientists urged the WHO team to consider the frozen food doctrine that has gained traction in the country.
The WHO team eventually agreed to explore in more detail how the virus could spread through frozen food. But in interviews, team members said that for now the focus would be on frozen wildlife products sold in China – not imported food.
The idea that the virus could initially spread from frozen wildlife products to humans is a “very unlikely scenario”, said Fabian Leandertz, a German zoonotic pathologist and a member of the team. He said the team agreed to incorporate the frozen food theory into the “hypothesis” of Chinese scientists for “their honor, a bit, the conclusion”.
Peter Daszak, a WHO team member and president of the Ecolitics Alliance in New York, said the trip had been emotionally drained, as he and the team had come to terms with the trauma of the early days of the epidemic. The team interviewed Kovid-19 in Wuhan as well as some of the first people to fall ill with medical personnel.
Dr. Daszak said, “The world does not realize that you know that he was the first person to get this thing.”