World powers are criticising China for ‘withholding’ information on initial cases of Covid-19, in what could weaken the credibility of a joint report Beijing prepared with the World Health Organization.
In a joint statement, the US, Canada, South Korea, UK and other several countries accused Beijing of having “undue influence” on a team of experts tasked with studying the pandemic’s origins.
“It is equally essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples,” the countries said, referring to the official name of the virus that causes Covid-19.
The Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea and Slovenia also signed the joint statement.
On Tuesday, a team of health experts under the WHO and China released the report on their findings, showing the virus may have been transmitted to humans from bats through a possible intermediate. And although experts found surfaces at the main market in Wuhan contaminated, they could not determine the actual source of the contamination.
“No firm conclusion therefore about the role of the Huanan market in the origin of the outbreak, or how the infection was introduced into the market, can currently be drawn,” the report said, also ruling out possibility of an accidental lab leak.
But the report’s publication came even as the World Health Organization said China had not provided crucial information on the virus.
“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data. I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom said.
“I welcome the recommendations for further studies to understand the earliest human cases and clusters, to trace the animals sold at markets in and around Wuhan, and to better understand the range of potential animal hosts and intermediaries.”
China had always fought claims it leaked the virus from labs. Initial cases of Covid-19 were found in Wuhan and the WHO declared it a pandemic nearly four months later.
The report’s findings could exonerate China’s alleged negligence in the labs. But failing to draw conclusions on the source of the virus could leave more questions unanswered. The joint report suggested the virus jump from animals to humans may have taken years, if not decades.
“We share these concerns not only for the benefit of learning all we can about the origins of this pandemic, but also to lay a pathway to a timely, transparent, evidence-based process for the next phase of this study as well as for the next health crises,” the countries said, calling on the WHO and member states to pledge transparency on pandemics.
“In a serious outbreak of an unknown pathogen with pandemic potential, a rapid, independent, expert-led, and unimpeded evaluation of the origins is critical to better prepare our people, our public health institutions, our industries, and our governments to respond successfully to such an outbreak and prevent future pandemics.”