White House cites ‘deep concerns’ about WHO COVID report, demands early data from China

Washington: The White House has called on China to make available data from the earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak, saying it has “deep concerns” about the way the findings of the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 report were communicated.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that it is imperative that the report be independent and free from “alteration by the Chinese government”, echoing concerns raised by the administration of former President Donald Trump, who also moved to quit the WHO over the issue.

Dominic Dwyer of the World Health Organisation team during the investigation in Wuhan earlier this month.Credit:AP

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Saturday (AEDT) said all hypotheses are still open about the origins of COVID-19, after Washington said it wanted to review data from a WHO-led mission to China, where the virus first emerged.

A WHO-led mission, which spent four weeks in China looking into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak, said this week that it was not looking further into the question of whether the virus escaped from a lab, which it considered highly unlikely.

The Trump administration had said it suspected the virus may have escaped from a Chinese lab, which Beijing strongly denies.

Sullivan noted that US President Joe Biden had quickly reversed the decision to disengage from the WHO, but said it was imperative to protect the organisation’s credibility.

White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.Credit:Bloomberg

“Re-engaging the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards,” Sullivan said. “We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them.”

Biden, who is spending his first weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in the mountains of western Maryland, will meet with his national security advisers on Saturday, a White House official said.

China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to the WHO-led team probing the origins of the pandemic, according to one of the team’s investigators, potentially complicating efforts to understand how the outbreak began.

The team had requested raw patient data on 174 cases that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak in the city of Wuhan in December 2019, as well as other cases, but were only provided with a summary, said Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert who is a member of the WHO team.

Such raw data is known as “line listings”, he said, and would typically be anonymised but contain details such as what questions were asked of individual patients, their responses and how their responses were analysed.

“That’s standard practice for an outbreak investigation,” he told Reuters on Saturday via video call from Sydney, where he is currently undergoing quarantine.

He said that gaining access to the raw data was especially important since only half of the 174 cases had exposure to the Huanan market, the now-shuttered wholesale seafood centre in Wuhan where the virus was initially detected.

“That’s why we’ve persisted to ask for that,” Dwyer said. “Why that doesn’t happen, I couldn’t comment. Whether it’s political or time or it’s difficult … But whether there are any other reasons why the data isn’t available, I don’t know. One would only speculate.”

“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” Sullivan said.

“To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak,” he said.

No comment was immediately available from the Chinese embassy in Washington or the WHO.

Going forward, all countries, including China, should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies, Sullivan said.

Reuters

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