China has done “little” to investigate the origins of Covid during the first eight months of the outbreak, a leaked WHO report claims.
Scientists at the UN body warned last August that Beijing was dragging its feet over the probe, which they say had barely progressed since January.
They also warned Beijing that no data was being shared, despite the fact that WHO chief Dr. Tedros insisted that the groundwork be laid to determine the origin of the virus.
The report leaked amid backlash from WHO over the most recent Wuhan probe, which backed the theories pushed by Beijing that the virus started outside of China.
China ‘did little’ to investigate Covid’s origins during the first eight months of the pandemic and did not share data with WHO, a leaked report finds (file image)
WHO researchers, led by Peter Embarek, visited Wuhan between July 10 and August 3 last year as part of a ‘forward-thinking team’ to set up the much broader probe that took place in January.
The leaked document, seen by The Guardian, is a two-page report prepared as they left the country to summarize the team’s findings.
It says: ‘After extensive discussions with and presentation of Chinese counterparts, it appears that little has been done on epidemiological research around Wuhan since January 2020.
The data presented orally provided some more detail than what was presented at the emergency committee meetings in January 2020.
“No PowerPoint presentations were created and no documents were shared.”
But WHO chief Dr. Tedros gave no indication that China was withholding information when he addressed the world at a press conference on the same day, August 3.
Speaking of the China probe, all he said was, “One of the areas we have investigated is the origin of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The WHO forward-thinking team that traveled to China has now completed their mission to lay the groundwork for further concerted efforts to uncover the origin of the virus.
Peter Embarek, whose team visited Wuhan between July and August last year, warned Beijing had given only “a few details” over January.
“As a result of these efforts, WHO and Chinese experts have prepared the terms of reference for the studies and work program for an international team.”
The international team – also led by Dr. Embarek – arrived in Wuhan in January this year and returned home two weeks ago after almost fully endorsing Beijing’s statements of the virus’s origin.
Dr. Embarek used a press conference after the trip was over to push theories to Beijing’s attention that the virus could have been imported on frozen meat, while rejecting suggestions it leaked from a Chinese lab.
He also insisted there was no evidence that the virus was spreading in Wuhan before December – a position he has since backed down after his assessment was met with disdain.
Says Dr. Embarek now found that there were at least 13 Covid variants in Wuhan in December last year, suggesting that the virus had been in the human population for some time to allow these different strains to develop.
He also revealed that up to 1,000 people in Wuhan could be infected in early December – an estimate based on Chinese data showing 174 serious cases of the disease – which also suggests it was spreading widely at the time.
While he stopped saying the virus was circulating before December, he did call for further research into the theory.
WHO chief Dr. Tedros gave no indication that China was slow to move or withheld data when speaking of the mission, saying it had laid the groundwork for finding out Covid’s origins.
Dr. Tedros has also walked back on suggestions that the virus hasn’t been leaked from a lab and says all theories remain on the table.
The WHO’s latest Wuhan report has been barred from recommending ‘comprehensive’ contact tracking of ‘patient zero’ – a man infected with Covid on December 8 who had no affiliation with a fish market once touted as the source of the virus – leading scientists to the “unlikely” slow pace of investigations in Beijing.
Independent scientists say they cannot understand why Chinese scientists would not have done this research work months ago.
Professor Maureen Miller, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Columbia University, said: “It is unlikely that this research has not been done. It’s not realistic considering they have world-class scientists there and the technology that has been invested in for the past 20 years.
Miller, who was shown a copy of the CNN report to be published, said the infection of the first patient on Dec. 8 with no direct contact with the wet market or travel shows was already taking place.
“In the short and long term, it is harmful for China to try to hide the fact that this virus started in China and has been exported around the world,” she told the website.
Professor Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was surprising that China “hasn’t invested in investigating two of those important clues.”
He added that the country had recently mobilized the entire city of Beijing to find the source of a Covid-19 outbreak.
“They have top-notch scientists, who are far more knowledgeable than most in recognizing the importance of this information,” he said.
Huang added that WHO’s recommendations showed that they were “discovering interesting information about the origin of the virus.”