China Withheld COVID-19 Data From World Health Organization Team Investigating Virus Origins: Report

(NAOHIKO HATTA/AFP via Getty Images)

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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Chinese authorities refused to share raw data on 174 early cases of Covid-19 with a World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the scientists on the team told The Wall Street Journal.

According to The Journal, government authorities provided summaries of the coronavirus cases to the WHO team, but withheld raw data that could provide clues about how the virus transmitted early on in the pandemic.

“They showed us a couple of examples, but that’s not the same as doing all of them, which is standard epidemiological investigation,” Dominic Dwyer, an Australian microbiologist on the WHO team, told The Journal.

“So then, you know, the interpretation of that data becomes more limited from our point of view, although the other side might see it as being quite good,” Dwyer said.

A team of 10 scientists, including one American, traveled to China in January to investigate several theories about the origins of the virus, including that an accident in a lab in Wuhan was responsible for the first human infection.

Another prevailing theory is that the virus jumped from an animal species to humans at one of Wuhan’s outdoor food markets, where exotic wildlife are sold. (RELATED: World Health Organization Official Says It Is ‘Too Early’ To Say That Coronavirus Started In China)

Chinese officials have asserted, without providing evidence, that the virus first took hold in Italy or another European country.

WHO officials gave mixed messages this week about the team’s findings.

Peter Ben Embarek (R) shakes hands with Liang Wannian (L) after a press conference following a visit by the international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province on February 9, 2021. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Peter Ben Embarek (R) shakes hands with Liang Wannian (L) after a press conference following a visit by the international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province on February 9, 2021. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Dr. Peter Embarek, the WHO team lead, said that it was “extremely unlikely” that an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was responsible for the first infection in humans.

“A laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population and therefore is not a hypothesis that would suggest future studies into our future work into understanding the origin of the virus,” he said at a press conference.

Embarek said that the WHO team planned to focus their investigation on three other theories to explain how the virus first infected humans. He said the investigators would explore whether frozen food products shipped to Wuhan carried the virus, whether the virus jumped from bats to humans or whether another animal species served as an intermediary between bats and humans.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, walked back Embarek’s statement on Thursday, saying that “all hypotheses” about the origins of the virus “remain open and require further study.”

Both the Chinese government and WHO have come under scrutiny over their handling of information about the pandemic.

On Jan. 14, 2020, WHO tweeted out an assurance from Chinese officials that the virus likely did not spread from person to person.

As of Friday, more than 108 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded around the globe, resulting in nearly 2.4 million deaths, according to Worldometer.

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