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article image'Deep concerns' raised over WHO report on origins of COVID-19

By Karen Graham     Feb 14, 2021 in Science
Investigators from the World Health Organization, looking into the origins of coronavirus in China discovered signs the outbreak was much wider in Wuhan in December 2019 than previously thought, and had possibly started earlier in another part of China.
At the conclusion of a four-week visit to Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus pandemic is believed to have started, the World Health Organization (WHO) this week said it was “extremely unlikely” that the pathogen had leaked from a Chinese laboratory, according to the Financial Times.
But there is concern over the discovery by WHO investigators that there was a more wide-ranging 2019 spread of the virus, possibly earlier than its emergence in Wuhan. WHO investigators are urgently seeking access to hundreds of thousands of blood samples from the city that China has not so far let them examine.
U.S. National Security advisor Jake Sullivan said on Saturday the U.S. has "deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the Covid-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process," after the Wall Street Journal reported that some WHO experts said China had not provided raw data related to a possible outbreak earlier than December 2019 in another part of China.
“China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak,” Sullivan said in his statement.
The WHO experts pushed back against the theory that the coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute...
The WHO experts pushed back against the theory that the coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology
Hector RETAMAL, AFP/File
Variants pose larger questions
The lead investigator for the WHO mission, Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, told CNN in an interview that the mission had found several signs of the more wide-ranging 2019 spread, including establishing for the first time there were over a dozen strains of the virus in Wuhan already in December 2019.
“The possible path from whatever original animal species all the way through to the Huanan market could have taken a very long and convoluted path involving also movements across borders,” Dr. Embarek said.
As the rest of the world now knows, variants or changes in the genetic makeup of the coronavirus are common and normally harmless, occurring over time as the disease moves between and reproduces among people or animals.
However, the discovery of so many different possible variants of the virus could suggest it had been circulating for longer than just that month, as some virologists have previously suggested. Dr. Embarek declined to draw conclusions about what the 13 strains could have meant for the disease's history before December.
Covid-19 was first detected in Wuhan in December 2019
Covid-19 was first detected in Wuhan in December 2019
And it is the slow emergence of this more-detailed data relating to the origin of the virus that is of great concern to many scientists studying the origins of the disease that it may have been spreading in China long before its first official emergence in mid-December.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in a statement on Friday, said that all hypotheses “remain open” and that more studies and analysis were needed to reach a more definitive conclusion about the origin of the virus. But he added that some of that work may lie “outside the remit and scope” of the four-week WHO mission to Wuhan.
To read the official WHO Mission report on the Wuhan, China trip, GO HERE.
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