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China Pushes Back at WHO Criticism That It Withheld Covid Data

Beijing urged World Health Organization officials not to be used as political tools after fresh accusations that Beijing may have withheld key early data on Covid-19, instrumental to understanding the origin of the virus.

China shared all materials that it had gathered on Covid’s origin when it conducted a joint mission with experts organized by the WHO back in 2020 and early 2021 and has not withheld data on any cases, samples or testing results, said Shen Hongbing, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at a briefing in Beijing on Saturday.

He said recent remarks by some WHO officials that dismissed the joint mission’s effort were “a crude offense to the scientists around the world who participated in the initial-origin tracing work.”

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“We urge certain people at the WHO to come back to the position of science and impartiality, instead of becoming a tool for politicizing Covid’s origin by some country, whether voluntarily or forced,” Shen said.

Shen’s remarks come days after WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead Maria D. Van Kerkhove said in an editorial that the sharing of some viral samples from a food market in Wuhan three years after they were collected amounted to a lack of data disclosure that was “inexcusable.” She said the WHO-China joint mission early in the pandemic was heavily criticized for the lack of access to raw data on early cases in China, which still hasn’t been granted.

Last month, a group of international scientists found data on specimens collected three years ago at the market in Wuhan had been uploaded by Chinese researchers earlier this year to the global genomic database GISAID.

Their independent analysis showed evidence of the virus along with genetic material from several animals, including raccoon dogs, making it the strongest data yet backing the theory that the virus could have spilled over from animals to humans at the market.

Chinese researchers, led by the China CDC’s former director George Gao Fu, argued in their studyof the specimens that the samples were insufficient to prove the Covid outbreak started there as a result of the virus jumping from animals to humans.

Chinese officials at Saturday’s briefing reiterated that conclusion, saying there isn’t enough evidence to conclude the virus originated from raccoon dogs and spilled over to humans at the Wuhan market.

Zhou Lei, a researcher from China CDC, called for the Covid origin tracing effort to be expanded to other countries, as multiple studies, including the testing of blood donated before December 2019, the tracing of animal trade supply chains and the testing of bats in China have all failed to yield any traces of the coronavirus.

–With assistance from Jing Li and Kelly Li.

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