WHO urges China to release COVID data after raccoon dog revelations

New findings suggest that raccoon dogs were present at the Wuhan market and may also have been infected with the coronavirus

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Advisors to the World Health Organization on Saturday urged China to release all information related to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, after new findings were briefly shared in an international pathogen-tracking database.

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New sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as additional genomic data based on samples collected from a live animal market in Wuhan, China, in 2020 were briefly uploaded to the GISAID database earlier this year by Chinese scientists, allowing them to can be viewed by researchers in other countries, according to the WHO Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) statement.

The sequences suggest that raccoon dogs were present in the market and may also have been infected with the coronavirus, providing a new clue in the chain of transmission that eventually reached humans.

Access to the information was subsequently restricted by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “apparently to allow for further data updates.”

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WHO officials discussed the matter with Chinese colleagues, who said the new data should be used to update a 2022 preprint study. China’s CDC plans to resubmit the paper for publication in the scientific journal Nature, according to the statement.

WHO officials say such information, while inconclusive, constitutes new lead in the investigation into the origins of COVID and should have been shared immediately.

“These data do not provide a definitive answer as to how the pandemic began, but each piece of data is important to bring us closer to that answer,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday. “This data could have been – and could have – been shared three years ago.”

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“We continue to urge China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results,” he said.

SAGO has been commissioned by the WHO to continue investigating the causes of the pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 7 million people worldwide.

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was shut down by Chinese authorities after the novel coronavirus emerged in the city in late 2019. The market has since been a focus of investigations into whether the virus had infected several other species before jumping to humans.

The WHO and other scientists also said they could not rule out the possibility that the virus originated in a high-security laboratory in Wuhan that studies dangerous pathogens. China denies any such connection.

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The 2022 preprint paper said a small portion of 923 samples collected from the stalls and sewage systems in and around the market tested positive for the virus; No virus was detected in 457 animal samples tested. Raccoon dogs were not among the animals tested, the newspaper initially said.

The new analysis suggests “that raccoon dogs and other animals may have been present before the market was cleaned up as part of the public health intervention,” the SAGO statement said.


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