WHO, advisors urge China to release all COVID-related data after new
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[March 20, 2023]
-Advisors to the World Health Organization have urged China to release
all information related to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic after new
findings were briefly shared on an international database used to track
New sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as additional genomic
data based on samples taken from a live animal market in Wuhan, China in
2020 were briefly uploaded to the open access GISAID database by Chinese
scientists earlier this year, allowing them to be viewed by researchers
in other countries, according to a Saturday statement from the WHO's
Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).
The sequences suggested that raccoon dogs were present in the market and
may have also been infected by the coronavirus, providing a new clue in
the chain of transmission that eventually reached humans, according to
Access to the information was subsequently restricted “apparently to
allow further data updates” by the Chinese Center for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC), the statement added.
WHO officials discussed the matter with Chinese colleagues, who
explained that the new data were intended to be used to update a
preprint study from 2022. China's CDC plans to re-submit the paper to
the scientific journal Nature for publication, according to the
WHO officials say such information, while not conclusive, represents a
new lead into the investigation of COVID's origins and should have been
"These data do not provide a definitive answer to the question of how
the pandemic began, but every piece of data is important in moving us
closer to that answer," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
said on Friday. "These data could have – and should have – been shared
three years ago."
"We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data, and to
conduct the necessary investigations and share the results," he said.
SAGO was tasked by the WHO to continue to investigate the origins of the
pandemic that has killed nearly 7 million people worldwide.
The Chinese CDC did not immediately respond to the WHO's latest
[to top of second column]
The building of Huanan seafood market,
where the second floor remains open for optics stores, and where
coronavirus believed to have first surfaced, almost a year after the
start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan,
Hubei province, China December 8, 2020. Picture taken December 8,
2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
'TOO EARLY' FOR CONCLUSION
When asked by Reuters why the sequences were not uploaded before,
George Gao, professor at the Institute of Microbiology at the
Chinese Academy of Sciences and former head of the Chinese CDC, said
the data uploaded were "nothing new."
He added that GISAID, the Munich-based pathogen database, took down
the sequences, not the Chinese scientists, and that he was in
contact with WHO.
It's "too early for any conclusion," he added in an emailed
statement. "All this must be left for scientists to work on, NOT for
journalists or public. We are eager to know the answer."
A spokesperson for GISAID said it does not take down data. They said
the sequences had been “recalled” and “are currently being updated
with newer and additional data as part of a manuscript currently
The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was shut down by
Chinese authorities after the novel coronavirus emerged in the city
in late 2019. The market has since been a focus of study of whether
the virus had infected several other species before jumping to
The WHO and other scientists have also said they cannot rule out the
possibility that the virus emerged from a high-security laboratory
in Wuhan that studies dangerous pathogens. China denies any such
The 2022 preprint paper said that a small portion of 923 samples
collected from the stalls and sewage systems in and around the
market tested positive for the virus; no virus was detected in 457
animal samples tested. The paper said initially that raccoon dogs
were not among the animals tested.
The new analysis suggests "that raccoon dog and other animals may
have been present before the market was cleaned as part of the
public health intervention," the SAGO statement said.
(Reporting by Sneha Bhowmik in Bengaluru and Jennifer Rigby in
London; Writing by Michele Gershberg; Editing by Nick Zieminski and
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