China urged to release COVID-19 data after more findings surface

Photo: Wei Tong/Beijing Youth Daily/VCG/Getty Images

Advisors to the World Health Organization (WHO) are calling on China to release all data related to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic after new findings were briefly shared on an international database used to track pathogens.

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New sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were uploaded to the open-access GISAID database by Chinese scientists earlier this year, allowing them to be viewed by researchers in other countries, according to a statement from the WHO’s Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO).

The sequences suggested that raccoon dogs were present in the market and may have also been infected by the coronavirus, providing a new clue in the chain of transmission that eventually reached humans. Access to the information was subsequently restricted “apparently to allow further data updates” by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the statement added.

The WHO called on China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results.

WHO officials say such information, while not conclusive, represents a new lead into the investigation of COVID-19’s origins and should have been shared immediately.

SAGO was tasked by the WHO to continue to investigate the origins of the pandemic that has killed 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 study of whether the virus had infected several other species before jumping to humans.

The WHO and other scientists have also said they cannot rule out the possibility that the virus emerged from a high-security laboratory in Wuhan that studies dangerous pathogens. China denies any such link.

GISAID, the Munich-based pathogen database, that was reportedly in contact with WHO was said to have taken down the sequences instead of the Chinese scientists. A spokesperson for GISAID said however, that it does not take down data. They said the sequences had been “recalled” and “are currently being updated with newer and additional data as part of a manuscript currently under review”.