China refused to give WHO raw data that could have helped determine when and how COVID-19 started

Sarah Al-Arshani
·2 min read
WHO China wuhan
Experts from the WHO-China joint team Liang Wannian (L) and Peter Ben Embarek attend the WHO-China Joint Study Press Conference on February 9, 2021 in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China. Zhang Chang/China News Service via Getty Images

World Health Organization investigators got into contentious arguments with Chinese officials over their refusal to turn over raw data on early coronavirus cases, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The data could have helped get a better understanding of how and when the pandemic started. A team of WHO investigators spent almost a month in Wuhan trying to figure out the origins of the pandemic.

Officials in China were frustrated by the persistent requests to get information on 174 COVID-19 cases that were found in December 2019, the Journal reported, adding that WHO officials were only given summaries and analyses of the data, as well as information from medical records from the months before the outbreak in Wuhan was identified.

"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."

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Chinese officials wanted to persuade the investigators of the Chinese government to claim that the virus might have spread in the country from abroad, but WHO officials said they couldn't make any claim until they saw data, The New York Times reported.

"It was my take on the entire mission that it was highly geopolitical," Dr. Thea Kølsen Fischer, a Danish epidemiologist on the WHO team told the Times. "Everybody knows how much pressure there is on China to be open to an investigation and also how much blame there might be associated with this."

Insider previously reported that the WHO team in China gave very few definitive answers about the origins of the virus, but confirmed a theory that the virus was leaked from a lab was untrue.

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