An Australian infectious disease expert says Chinese authorities refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to a World Health Organization-led team probing the origins of the pandemic.
The team had requested raw patient data on the 174 cases of COVID-19 that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019, as well as other cases, but were only provided with a summary according to Professor Dominic Dwyer.
That raw data is known as “line listings”, Professor Dwyer said, and would contain details such as what questions were asked of individual patients, their responses and how their responses were analysed.
He said that gaining access to the raw data was especially important since only half of the 174 cases had exposure to the Huanan market, the now-shuttered wholesale seafood centre in Wuhan where the virus was initially detected.
“That’s why we’ve persisted to ask for that,” Professor Dwyer told Reuters on Saturday.
“Why that doesn’t happen, I couldn’t comment.
“Whether it’s political or time or it’s difficult … But whether there are any other reasons why the data isn’t available, I don’t know.”
While the Chinese authorities provided plenty of material, he said the issue of access to the raw patient data would be mentioned in the team’s final report.
“The WHO people certainly felt that they had received much more data than they had ever received in the previous year,’ he said.
“So that in itself is an advance.”
Professor Dwyer said earlier this week that the WHO team had requested their Chinese counterparts complete work before they arrived.
“When we got there, they’d done that, including some very big amounts of work such as reviewing 76,000 case reports from 130-odd facilities in Wuhan, trying to identify early cases,” he said.
“So they did do some enormous amounts of work quickly. On the other hand, whether we got all the data, of course, is uncertain.
“And it was sometimes difficult to understand how they came to certain conclusions, and there were differences of opinion over that.”
A summary of the team’s findings could be released as early as next week, the WHO said on Friday.
The team, which arrived in China in January and spent four weeks looking into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak, was limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and prevented from contact with community members, due to health restrictions.
The first two weeks were spent in hotel quarantine.