June 1, 2023

Brighton Journal

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A World Health Organization official criticizes China’s “unwarranted” lack of transparency about the origins of the epidemic


The World Health Organization still does not have key data from China on the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak, which puts the world at risk, says Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of the Covid-19 group and head of its program on emerging diseases.

“The lack of data disclosure is simply unforgivable,” Van Kerkhove wrote. An editorial in the journal Science Thursday. “The longer it takes to understand the origins of the pandemic, the more difficult it will be to answer the question, and the more insecure the world will become.”

Van Kerkhove said understanding how the disease originated in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 will help prevent future outbreaks.

Only this year, three years after the start of the epidemic, the World Health Organization gained access to some data collected by Chinese scientists in early 2020 at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. The raw genetic sequences from the samples were recently uploaded to the data-sharing website GISAID. It was soon removed, but quick-thinking researchers had already taken notice of it and downloaded it for further study.

An analysis of that material revealed animal DNA in samples already known to be positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. World Health Organization officials said in March that a large amount of this DNA appeared to be from animals known as raccoon dogs, which were for sale on the market.

Although the sequences showed that the animal could be an intermediate host and the market doubled the spread of the virus, the data did not show that people who interacted with those animals became ill through that exposure. In other words, the results do not settle the question of how the pandemic began.

To do this, the scientists You need to trace the animals for the source of the virus. The WHO also needs access to test results from market workers.

Three years later, Van Kerkhove said, the WHO still does not have access to the raw data China has collected from early Covid-19 cases.

She firmly believes that with China’s advanced technical capabilities, she has more important information that she does not share.

Van Kerkhove says China could have more unshared information about things like the wild and farmed animal trade, testing of humans and animals in Wuhan and across China, the operations of labs in Wuhan that worked with coronaviruses, and the first cases.

She said the failure to share information only serves to politicize the origin of the virus.

“The world needs to move away from blame politics and, instead, harness all diplomatic and scientific approaches so that the global scientific community can do what it does best — collaborate and focus on this health crisis and find evidence-based solutions to thwart future pandemics,” Van Kerkhove wrote. .

It remains unclear whether the Covid-19 pandemic started with a lab leak or with an outbreak from animals. Many scientists believe that the virus passed naturally from animals to humans. Intelligence agencies such as the US Department of Energy’s Bureau of Intelligence and Counterintelligence and the FBI support the theory that this virus spread from a Chinese laboratory. Without more data from China early in the pandemic, this may never be proven.

This is it Not the first time Van Kerkhove has been outspoken about China’s lack of transparency about Covid, nor is she the only global leader to call on China to be candid about the beginnings of the pandemic.

In March, Van Kerkhove described for information The WHO’s recent finding of Chinese data on the market is “beyond outrageous”, and has called the lack of cooperation “scary as hell”.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President Joe Biden’s COVID task force during the presidential transition, said Van Kerkhove’s editorial checks the WHO on the issue.

Will that be a compelling incentive for China to share more? No, they’re going to do what they’re going to do,” Osterholm said.

“I am not optimistic,” he added.

Osterholm said it would never be productive to spend the time and attention getting data from China to determine what happened with Covid.

“My whole message is that we have to prepare for lab leaks or spillovers,” he said.

The World Health Organization plans to publish a status report on what it knows about the origins of Covid-19 this year.

In the meantime, he encourages all countries, not just China, to share what they know to help solve the puzzle and fight future epidemics. Van Kerkhove believes collaboration is key, as is finding evidence-based solutions.

I wrote “time is running out”.

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