SHANGHAI-China declined to provide a World Health Organization-led team investigating the source of the pandemic with raw data on early COVID-19 cases, one of the team’s investigators said, possibly complicating attempts to understand how the epidemic started.
The team demanded raw patient data on 174 cases reported by China from the early stage of the Wuhan outbreak in December 2019, as well as other cases, but only given a review, said Dominic Dwyer, a member of the team’s Australian infectious disease expert.
These raw data was known as “line listings,” he said, and will usually be anonymized, but include information such as what specific patients’ questions were asked, their answers, and how their responses were evaluated.
“That’s standard practice for investigating an outbreak,” he told Reuters via video call from Sydney on Jan. 13, where he is currently under quarantine.
He said it was particularly necessary to gain access to the raw data because only half of the 174 cases were exposed to the Huanan market, the now-shuttered wholesale seafood center in Wuhan where the virus was initially identified.
“That’s why we kept asking for it,” Dwyer said. “I couldn’t elaborate about why that didn’t happen. Whether it’s political or time, or it’s hard… But I don’t know if there are any other explanations why the data is not accessible. Just one will speculate.
Although a lot of material was provided by the Chinese authorities, he said the issue of access to raw patient data will be stated in the final report of the team. The WHO people undoubtedly thought that much more information had been collected than they had ever received in the previous year. And that’s an advance in itself.’
The team, which arrived in China in January and spent four weeks investigating the source of the outbreak, was limited to visits arranged by their Chinese hosts and, because of health restrictions, was prohibited from contacting community members. The first two weeks were spent in quarantine at a hotel.
The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on Friday previously reported China’s refusal to hand over raw data on the early COVID-19 cases.
WHO did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but Beijing has previously defended its openness and cooperation with the WHO mission in dealing with the outbreak.
In a statement on Saturday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called on the regime to make its data from the earliest stages of the outbreak public.
We are extremely concerned about how the early results of the COVID-19 inquiry were conveyed and about the procedure used to reach them,” said Sullivan.” “It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from Chinese government intervention or alteration.”