GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of the World Health Organization pressed China on Thursday to share its information about the origins of COVID-19, saying that until that happened, all hypotheses remained on the table, more than three years after the virus first emerged. .
“Without full access to the information that China has, you cannot say this or that,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in response to a question about the origin of the virus.
“All hypotheses are on the table. This is the position of the World Health Organization and that is why we have been asking China to cooperate on this matter.”
“If they do, we will know what happened or how it started,” he said.
The virus was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, where many suspected it spread to a live animal market before spreading around the world and killing nearly 7 million people.
Data from the early days of the COVID pandemic was briefly uploaded by Chinese scientists to an international database last month.
It included genetic sequences found in more than 1,000 environmental and animal samples taken in January 2020 at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, the site of the first known outbreak of the coronavirus.
Data showed that DNA from multiple animal species — including raccoon dogs — was present in environmental samples that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, indicating that they were the “most likely channels” for the disease, according to to a team of international researchers.
However, in a non-peer-reviewed study published in Nature this week, scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention questioned the international team’s findings.
They said the samples did not provide evidence that the animals were actually infected. They were also taken a month after human-to-human transmission of the virus occurred on the market, so even if they tested positive for COVID, the animals could have caught the virus from humans.
Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization, the technical lead for COVID-19, said the latest Chinese information provided some “clues” on the origins but no answers. She said the WHO was working with scientists to learn more about early cases from 2019 such as where the infected people were.
She added that the World Health Organization still did not know whether some of the required research had been conducted in China.
She added that WHO had also asked the United States for original data supporting a recent study by the US Department of Energy which indicated that a laboratory leak in China likely caused the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetro-Farber and Emma Farg in Geneva and Raghav Mahobey and Prateek Jain in Bangalore; Additional reporting by David Stanaway in Singapore. Edited by Frank Jack Daniel
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